Paris, January 23, 1656
We were entirely mistaken. It was only yesterday that I was
undeceived. Until that time I had laboured under the impression that
the disputes in the Sorbonne were vastly important, and deeply
affected the interests of religion. The frequent convocations of an
assembly so illustrious as that of the Theological Faculty of Paris,
attended by so many extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances, led
one to form such high expectations that it was impossible to help
coming to the conclusion that the subject was most extraordinary.
You will be greatly surprised, however, when you learn from the
following account the issue of this grand demonstration, which, having
made myself perfectly master of the subject, I shall be able to tell
you in very few words.
Two questions, then, were brought under examination; the one a
question of fact, the other a question of right.
The question of fact consisted in ascertaining whether M.
Arnauld was guilty of presumption, for having asserted in his second
letter that he had carefully perused the book of Jansenius, and that
he had not discovered the propositions condemned by the late pope; but
that, nevertheless, as he condemned these propositions wherever they
might occur, he condemned them in Jansenius, if they were really
contained in that work.
The question here was, if he could, without presumption, entertain
a doubt that these propositions were in Jansenius, after the bishops
had declared that they were.
The matter having been brought before the Sorbonne, seventy-one
doctors undertook his defence, maintaining that the only reply he
could possibly give to the demands made upon him in so many
publications, calling on him to say if he held that these propositions
were in that book, was that he had not been able to find them, but
that if they were in the book, he condemned them in the book.
Some even went a step farther and protested that, after all the
search they had made into the book, they had never stumbled upon these
propositions, and that they had, on the contrary, found sentiments
entirely at variance with them. They then earnestly begged that, if
any doctor present had discovered them, he would have the goodness
to point them out; adding that what was so easy could not reasonably
be refused, as this would be the surest way to silence the whole of
them, M. Arnauld included; but this proposal has been uniformly
declined. So much for the one side.
On the other side are eighty secular doctors and some forty
mendicant friars, who have condemned M. Arnauld's proposition, without
choosing to examine whether he has spoken truly or falsely- who, in
fact, have declared that they have nothing to do with the veracity
of his proposition, but simply with its temerity.
Besides these, there were fifteen who were not in favor of the
censure, and who are called Neutrals.
Such was the issue of the question of fact, regarding which, I
must say, I give myself very little concern. It does not affect my
conscience in the least whether M. Arnauld is presumptuous or the
reverse; and should I be tempted, from curiosity, to ascertain whether
these propositions are contained in Jansenius, his book is neither
so very rare nor so very large as to hinder me from reading it over
from beginning to end, for my own satisfaction, without consulting the
Sorbonne on the matter.
Were it not, however, for the dread of being presumptuous
myself, I really think that I would be disposed to adopt the opinion
which has been formed by the most of my acquaintances, who, though
they have believed hitherto on common report that the propositions
were in Jansenius, begin now to suspect the contrary, owing to this
strange refusal to point them out- a refusal the more extraordinary to
me as I have not yet met with a single individual who can say that
he has discovered them in that work. I am afraid, therefore, that this
censure will do more harm than good, and that the impression which
it will leave on the minds of all who know its history will be just
the reverse of the conclusion that has been come to. The truth is
the world has become sceptical of late and will not believe things
till it sees them. But, as I said before, this point is of very little
moment, as it has no concern with religion.
The question of right, from its affecting the faith, appears
much more important, and, accordingly, I took particular pains in
examining it. You will be relieved, however, to find that it is of
as little consequence as the former.
The point of dispute here was an assertion of M. Arnauld's in
the same letter, to the effect "that the grace, without which we can
do nothing, was wanting to St. Peter at his fall." You and I
supposed that the controversy here would turn upon the great
principles of grace; such as whether grace is given to all men? Or
if it is efficacious of itself? But we were quite mistaken. You must
know I have become a great theologian within this short time; and
now for the proofs of it!
To ascertain the matter with certainty, I repaired to my neighbor,
M. N-, doctor of Navarre, who, as you are aware, is one of the keenest
opponents of the Jansenists, and, my curiosity having made me almost
as keen as himself, I asked him if they would not formally decide at
once that "grace is given to all men," and thus set the question at
rest. But he gave me a sore rebuff and told me that that was not the
point; that there were some of his party who held that grace was not
given to all; that the examiners themselves had declared, in a full
assembly of the Sorbonne, that that opinion was problematical; and
that he himself held the same sentiment, which he confirmed by quoting
to me what he called that celebrated passage of St. Augustine: "We
know that grace is not given to all men."
I apologized for having misapprehended his sentiment and requested
him to say if they would not at least condemn that other opinion of
the Jansenists which is making so much noise: "That grace is
efficacious of itself, and invincibly determines our will to what is
good." But in this second query I was equally unfortunate. "You know
nothing about the matter," he said; "that is not a heresy- it is an
orthodox opinion; all the Thomists maintain it; and I myself have
defended it in my Sorbonic thesis."
I did not venture again to propose my doubts, and yet I was as far
as ever from understanding where the difficulty lay; so, at last, in
order to get at it, I begged him to tell me where, then, lay the
heresy of M. Arnauld's proposition. "It lies here," said he, "that
he does not acknowledge that the righteous have the power of obeying
the commandments of God, in the manner in which we understand it."
On receiving this piece of information, I took my leave of him;
and, quite proud at having discovered the knot of the question, I
sought M. N-, who is gradually getting better and was sufficiently
recovered to conduct me to the house of his brother-in-law, who is a
Jansenist, if ever there was one, but a very good man notwithstanding.
Thinking to insure myself a better reception, I pretended to be very
high on what I took to be his side, and said: "Is it possible that the
Sorbonne has introduced into the Church such an error as this, 'that
all the righteous have always the power of obeying the commandments of
"What say you?" replied the doctor. "Call you that an error- a
sentiment so Catholic that none but Lutherans and Calvinists impugn
"Indeed!" said I, surprised in my turn; "so you are not of their
"No," he replied; "we anathematize it as heretical and impious."
Confounded by this reply, I soon discovered that I had overacted
the Jansenist, as I had formerly overdone the Molinist. But, not being
sure if I had rightly understood him, I requested him to tell me
frankly if he held "that the righteous have always a real power to
observe the divine precepts?" Upon this, the good man got warm (but it
was with a holy zeal) and protested that he would not disguise his
sentiments on any consideration- that such was, indeed, his belief,
and that he and all his party would defend it to the death, as the
pure doctrine of St. Thomas, and of St. Augustine their master.
This was spoken so seriously as to leave me no room for doubt; and
under this impression I returned to my first doctor and said to him,
with an air of great satisfaction, that I was sure there would be
peace in the Sorbonne very soon; that the Jansenists were quite at one
with them in reference to the power of the righteous to obey the
commandments of God; that I could pledge my word for them and could
make them seal it with their blood.
"Hold there!" said he. "One must be a theologian to see the
point of this question. The difference between us is so subtle that it
is with some difficulty we can discern it ourselves- you will find
it rather too much for your powers of comprehension. Content yourself,
then, with knowing that it is very true the Jansenists will tell you
that all the righteous have always the power of obeying the
commandments; that is not the point in dispute between us; but mark
you, they will not tell you that that power is proximate. That is
This was a new and unknown word to me. Up to this moment I had
managed to understand matters, but that term involved me in obscurity;
and I verily believe that it has been invented for no other purpose
than to mystify. I requested him to give me an explanation of it,
but he made a mystery of it, and sent me back, without any further
satisfaction, to demand of the Jansenists if they would admit this
proximate power. Having charged my memory with the phrase (as to my
understanding, that was out of the question), I hastened with all
possible expedition, fearing that I might forget it, to my Jansenist
friend and accosted him, immediately after our first salutations,
with: "Tell me, pray, if you admit the proximate power?" He smiled,
and replied, coldly: "Tell me yourself in what sense you understand
it, and I may then inform you what I think of it." As my knowledge did
not extend quite so far, I was at a loss what reply to make; and
yet, rather than lose the object of my visit, I said at random:
"Why, I understand it in the sense of the Molinists." "To which of the
Molinists do you refer me?" replied he, with the utmost coolness. I
referred him to the whole of them together, as forming one body, and
animated by one spirit.
"You know very little about the matter," returned he. "So far
are they from being united in sentiment that some of them are
diametrically opposed to each other. But, being all united in the
design to ruin M. Arnauld, they have resolved to agree on this term
proximate, which both parties might use indiscriminately, though
they understand it diversely, that thus, by a similarity of language
and an apparent conformity, they may form a large body and get up a
majority to crush him with the greater certainty."
This reply filled me with amazement; but, without imbibing these
impressions of the malicious designs of the Molinists, which I am
unwilling to believe on his word, and with which I have no concern,
I set myself simply to ascertain the various senses which they give to
that mysterious word proximate. "I would enlighten you on the
subject with all my heart," he said; "but you would discover in it
such a mass of contrariety and contradiction that you would hardly
believe me. You would suspect me. To make sure of the matter, you
had better learn it from some of themselves; and I shall give you some
of their addresses. You have only to make a separate visit to one
called M. le Moine and to Father Nicolai."
"I have no acquaintance with any of these persons," said I.
"Let me see, then," he replied, "if you know any of those whom I
shall name to you; they all agree in sentiment with M. le Moine."
I happened, in fact, to know some of them.
"Well, let us see if you are acquainted with any of the Dominicans
whom they call the 'New Thomists,' for they are all the same with
I knew some of them also whom he named; and, resolved to profit by
this council and to investigate the matter, I took my leave of him and
went immediately to one of the disciples of M. le Moine. I begged
him to inform me what it was to have the proximate power of doing a
"It is easy to tell you that, " he replied; "it is merely to
have all that is necessary for doing it in such a manner that
nothing is wanting to performance."
"And so," said I, "to have the proximate power of crossing a
river, for example, is to have a boat, boatmen, oars, and all the
rest, so that nothing is wanting?"
"Exactly so," said the monk.
"And to have the proximate power of seeing," continued I, "must be
to have good eyes and the light of day; for a person with good sight
in the dark would not have the proximate power of seeing, according to
you, as he would want the light, without which one cannot see?"
"Precisely," said he.
"And consequently," returned I, "when you say that all the
righteous have the proximate power of observing the commandments of
God, you mean that they have always all the grace necessary for
observing them, so that nothing is wanting to them on the part of
"Stay there," he replied; "they have always all that is
necessary for observing the commandments, or at least for asking it of
"I understand you," said I; "they have all that is necessary for
praying to God to assist them, without requiring any new grace from
God to enable them to pray."
"You have it now," he rejoined.
"But is it not necessary that they have an efficacious grace, in
order to pray to God?"
"No," said he; "not according to M. le Moine."
To lose no time, I went to the Jacobins, and requested an
interview with some whom I knew to be New Thomists, and I begged
them to tell me what proximate power was. "Is it not," said I, "that
power to which nothing is wanting in order to act?"
"No," said they.
"Indeed! fathers," said I; "if anything is wanting to that
power, do you call it proximate? Would you say, for instance, that a
man in the night-time, and without any light, had the proximate
power of seeing?"
"Yes, indeed, he would have it, in our opinion, if he is not
"I grant that," said I; "but M. le Moine understands it in a
"Very true," they replied; "but so it is that we understand it."
"I have no objections to that," I said; "for I never quarrel about
a name, provided I am apprised of the sense in which it is understood.
But I perceive from this that, when you speak of the righteous
having always the proximate power of praying to God, you understand
that they require another supply for praying, without which they
will never pray."
"Most excellent!" exclaimed the good fathers, embracing me;
"exactly the thing; for they must have, besides, an efficacious
grace bestowed upon all, and which determines their wills to pray; and
it is heresy to deny the necessity of that efficacious grace in
order to pray."
"Most excellent!" cried I, in return; "but, according to you,
the Jansenists are Catholics, and M. le Moine a heretic; for the
Jansenists maintain that, while the righteous have power to pray, they
require nevertheless an efficacious grace; and this is what you
approve. M. le Moine, again, maintains that the righteous may pray
without efficacious grace; and this is what you condemn."
"Ay," said they; "but M. le Moine calls that power 'proximate
"How now! fathers," I exclaimed; "this is merely playing with
words, to say that you are agreed as to the common terms which you
employ, while you differ with them as to the sense of these terms."
The fathers made no reply; and at this juncture, who should come
in but my old friend, the disciple of M. le Moine! I regarded this
at the time as an extraordinary piece of good fortune; but I have
discovered since then that such meetings are not rare- that, in
fact, they are constantly mixing in each other's society.
"I know a man," said I, addressing myself to M. le Moine's
disciple, "who holds that all the righteous have always the power of
praying to God, but that, notwithstanding this, they will never pray
without an efficacious grace which determines them, and which God does
not always give to all the righteous. Is he a heretic?"
"Stay," said the doctor; "you might take me by surprise. Let us go
cautiously to work. Distinguo. If he call that power proximate
power, he will be a Thomist, and therefore a Catholic; if not, he will
be a Jansenist and, therefore, a heretic."
"He calls it neither proximate nor non-proximate," said I.
"Then he is a heretic," quoth he; "I refer you to these good
fathers if he is not."
I did not appeal to them as judges, for they had already nodded
assent; but I said to them: "He refuses to admit that word
proximate, because he can meet with nobody who will explain it to
Upon this one of the fathers was on the point of offering his
definition of the term, when he was interrupted by M. le Moine's
disciple, who said to him: "Do you mean, then, to renew our broils?
Have we not agreed not to explain that word proximate, but to use it
on both sides without saying what it signifies?" To this the Jacobin
gave his assent.
I was thus let into the whole secret of their plot; and, rising to
take my leave of them, I remarked: "Indeed, fathers, I am much
afraid this is nothing better than pure chicanery; and, whatever may
be the result of your convocations, I venture to predict that,
though the censure should pass, peace will not be established. For
though it should be decided that the syllables of that word
proximate should be pronounced, who does not see that, the meaning not
being explained, each of you will be disposed to claim the victory?
The Jacobins will contend that the word is to be understood in their
sense; M. le Moine will insist that it must be taken in his; and
thus there will be more wrangling about the explanation of the word
than about its introduction. For, after all, there would be no great
danger in adopting it without any sense, seeing it is through the
sense only that it can do any harm. But it would be unworthy of the
Sorbonne and of theology to employ equivocal and captious terms
without giving any explanation of them. In short, fathers, tell me,
I entreat you, for the last time, what is necessary to be believed
in order to be a good Catholic?"
"You must say," they all vociferated simultaneously, "that all the
righteous have the proximate power, abstracting from it all sense-
from the sense of the Thomists and the sense of other divines."
"That is to say," I replied, in taking leave of them, "that I must
pronounce that word to avoid being the heretic of a name. For, pray,
is this a Scripture word?" "No," said they. "Is it a word of the
Fathers, the Councils, or the Popes?" "No." "Is the word, then, used
by St. Thomas?" "No." "What necessity, therefore, is there for using
it since it has neither the authority of others nor any sense of
itself.?" "You are an opinionative fellow," said they; "but you
shall say it, or you shall be a heretic, and M. Arnauld into the
bargain; for we are the majority, and, should it be necessary, we
can bring a sufficient number of Cordeliers into the field to carry
On hearing this solid argument, I took my leave of them, to
write you the foregoing account of my interview, from which you will
perceive that the following points remain undisputed and uncondemned
by either party. First, That grace is not given to all men. Second,
That all the righteous have always the power of obeying the divine
commandments. Third, That they require, nevertheless, in order to obey
them, and even to pray, an efficacious grace, which invincibly
determines their will. Fourth, That this efficacious grace is not
always granted to all the righteous, and that it depends on the pure
mercy of God. So that, after all, the truth is safe, and nothing
runs any risk but that word without the sense, proximate.
Happy the people who are ignorant of its existence! happy those
who lived before it was born! for I see no help for it, unless the
gentlemen of the Acadamy, by an act of absolute authority, banish that
barbarous term, which causes so many divisions, from beyond the
precincts of the Sorbonne. Unless this be done, the censure appears
certain; but I can easily see that it will do no other harm than
diminish the credit of the Sorbonne, and deprive it of that
authority which is so necessary to it on other occasions.
Meanwhile, I leave you at perfect liberty to hold by the word
proximate or not, just as you please; for I love you too much to
persecute you under that pretext. If this account is not displeasing
to you, I shall continue to apprise you of all that happens. I am, &c.
Paris, January 29, 1656
Just as I had sealed up my last letter, I received a visit from
our old friend M. N-. Nothing could have happened more luckily for
my curiosity; for he is thoroughly informed in the questions of the
day and is completely in the secret of the Jesuits, at whose houses,
including those of their leading men, he is a constant visitor.
After having talked over the business which brought him to my house, I
asked him to state, in a few words, what were the points in dispute
between the two parties.
He immediately complied, and informed me that the principal points
were two- the first about the proximate power, and the second about
sufficient grace. I have enlightened you on the first of these
points in my former letter and shall now speak of the second.
In one word, then, I found that their difference about
sufficient grace may be defined thus: The Jesuits maintain that
there is a grace given generally to all men, subject in such a way
to free-will that the will renders it efficacious or inefficacious
at its pleasure, without any additional aid from God and without
wanting anything on his part in order to act effectively; and hence
they term this grace sufficient, because it suffices of itself for
action. The Jansenists, on the other hand, will not allow that any
grace is actually sufficient which is not also efficacious; that is,
that all those kinds of grace which do not determine the will to act
effectively are insufficient for action; for they hold that a man
can never act without efficacious grace.
Such are the points in debate between the Jesuits and the
Jansenists; and my next object was to ascertain the doctrine of the
New Thomists. "It is rather an odd one," he said; "they agree with the
Jesuits in admitting a sufficient grace given to all men; but they
maintain, at the same time, that no man can act with this grace alone,
but that, in order to do this, he must receive from God an efficacious
grace which really determines his will to the action, and which God
does not grant to all men." "So that, according to this doctrine,"
said I, "this grace is sufficient without being sufficient."
"Exactly so," he replied; "for if it suffices, there is no need of
anything more for acting; and if it does not suffice, why- it is not
"But," asked I, "where, then, is the difference between them and
the Jansenists?" "They differ in this," he replied, "that the
Dominicans have this good qualification, that they do not refuse to
say that all men have the sufficient grace." "I understand you,"
returned I; "but they say it without thinking it; for they add that,
in order to act, we must have an efficacious grace which is not
given to all, consequently, if they agree with the Jesuits in the
use of a term which has no sense, they differ from them and coincide
with the Jansenists in the substance of the thing. That is very
true, said he. "How, then," said I, "are the Jesuits united with them?
and why do they not combat them as well as the Jansenists, since
they will always find powerful antagonists in these men, who, by
maintaining the necessity of the efficacious grace which determines
the will, will prevent them from establishing that grace which they
hold to be of itself sufficient?"
"The Dominicans are too powerful," he replied, "and the Jesuits
are too politic, to come to an open rupture with them. The Society
is content with having prevailed on them so far as to admit the name
of sufficient grace, though they understand it in another sense; by
which manoeuvre they gain this advantage, that they will make their
opinion appear untenable, as soon as they judge it proper to do so.
And this will be no difficult matter; for, let it be once granted that
all men have the sufficient graces, nothing can be more natural than
to conclude that the efficacious grace is not necessary to action- the
sufficiency of the general grace precluding the necessity of all
others. By saying sufficient we express all that is necessary for
action; and it will serve little purpose for the Dominicans to exclaim
that they attach another sense to the expression; the people,
accustomed to the common acceptation of that term, would not even
listen to their explanation. Thus the Society gains a sufficient
advantage from the expression which has been adopted by the
Dominicans, without pressing them any further; and were you but
acquainted with what passed under Popes Clement VIII and Paul V, and
knew how the Society was thwarted by the Dominicans in the
establishment of the sufficient grace, you would not be surprised to
find that it avoids embroiling itself in quarrels with them and allows
them to hold their own opinion, provided that of the Society is left
untouched; and more especially, when the Dominicans countenance its
doctrine, by agreeing to employ, on all public occasions, the term
"The Society," he continued, "is quite satisfied with their
complaisance. It does not insist on their denying the necessity of
efficacious grace, this would be urging them too far. People should
not tyrannize over their friends; and the Jesuits have gained quite
enough. The world is content with words; few think of searching into
the nature of things; and thus the name of sufficient grace being
adopted on both sides, though in different senses, there is nobody,
except the most subtle theologians, who ever dreams of doubting that
the thing signified by that word is held by the Jacobins as well as by
the Jesuits; and the result will show that these last are not the
I acknowledged that they were a shrewd class of people, these
Jesuits; and, availing myself of his advice, I went straight to the
Jacobins, at whose gate I found one of my good friends, a staunch
Jansenist (for you must know I have got friends among all parties),
who was calling for another monk, different from him whom I was in
search of. I prevailed on him, however, after much entreaty, to
accompany me, and asked for one of my New Thomists. He was delighted
to see me again. "How now! my dear father," I began, "it seems it is
not enough that all men have a proximate power, with which they can
never act with effect; they must have besides this a sufficient grace,
with which they can act as little. Is not that the doctrine of your
school?" "It is," said the worthy monk; "and I was upholding it this
very morning in the Sorbonne. I spoke on the point during my whole
half-hour; and, but for the sand-glass, I bade fair to have reversed
that wicked proverb, now so current in Paris: 'He votes without
speaking, like a monk in the Sorbonne.'" "What do you mean by your
half-hour and your sand-glass?" I asked; "do they cut your speeches by
a certain measure?" "Yes," said he, "they have done so for some days
past." "And do they oblige you to speak for half an hour?" "No; we may
speak as little as we please." "But not as much as you please, said I.
"O what a capital regulation for the boobies! what a blessed excuse
for those who have nothing worth the saying! But, to return to the
point, father; this grace given to all men is sufficient, is it
not?" "Yes," said he. "And yet it has no effect without efficacious
grace?" "None whatever," he replied. "And all men have the
sufficient," continued I, "and all have not the efficacious?"
"Exactly," said he. "That is," returned I, "all have enough of
grace, and all have not enough of it that is, this grace suffices,
though it does not suffice- that is, it is sufficient in name and
insufficient in effect! In good sooth, father, this is particularly
subtle doctrine! Have you forgotten, since you retired to the
cloister, the meaning attached, in the world you have quitted, to
the word sufficient? don't you remember that it includes all that is
necessary for acting? But no, you cannot have lost all recollection of
it; for, to avail myself of an illustration which will come home
more vividly to your feelings, let us suppose that you were supplied
with no more than two ounces of bread and a glass of water daily,
would you be quite pleased with your prior were he to tell you that
this would be sufficient to support you, under the pretext that, along
with something else, which however, he would not give you, you would
have all that would be necessary to support you? How, then can you
allow yourselves to say that all men have sufficient grace for acting,
while you admit that there is another grace absolutely necessary to
acting which all men have not? Is it because this is an unimportant
article of belief, and you leave all men at liberty to believe that
efficacious grace is necessary or not, as they choose? Is it a
matter of indifference to say, that with sufficient grace a man may
really act?" "How!" cried the good man; "indifference! it is heresy-
formal heresy. The necessity of efficacious grace for acting
effectively, is a point of faith- it is heresy to deny it."
"Where are we now?" I exclaimed; "and which side am I to take
here? If I deny the sufficient grace, I am a Jansenist. If I admit it,
as the Jesuits do, in the way of denying that efficacious grace is
necessary, I shall be a heretic, say you. And if I admit it, as you
do, in the way of maintaining the necessity of efficacious grace, I
sin against common sense, and am a blockhead, say the Jesuits. What
must I do, thus reduced to the inevitable necessity of being a
blockhead, a heretic, or a Jansenist? And what a sad pass are
matters come to, if there are none but the Jansenists who avoid coming
into collision either with the faith or with reason, and who save
themselves at once from absurdity and from error!"
My Jansenist friend took this speech as a good omen and already
looked upon me as a convert. He said nothing to me, however; but,
addressing the monk: "Pray, father," inquired he, "what is the point
on which you agree with the Jesuits?" "We agree in this," he
replied, "that the Jesuits and we acknowledge the sufficient grace
given to all." "But," said the Jansenist, "there are two things in
this expression sufficient grace- there is the sound, which is only so
much breath; and there is the thing which it signifies, which is
real and effectual. And, therefore, as you are agreed with the Jesuits
in regard to the word sufficient and opposed to them as to the
sense, it is apparent that you are opposed to them in regard to the
substance of that term, and that you only agree with them as to the
sound. Is this what you call acting sincerely and cordially?"
"But," said the good man, "what cause have you to complain,
since we deceive nobody by this mode of speaking? In our schools we
openly teach that we understand it in a manner different from the
"What I complain of," returned my friend" "is, that you do not
proclaim it everywhere, that by sufficient grace you understand the
grace which is not sufficient. You are bound in conscience, by thus
altering the sense of the ordinary terms of theology, to tell that,
when you admit a sufficient grace in all men, you understand that they
have not sufficient grace in effect. All classes of persons in the
world understand the word sufficient in one and the same sense; the
New Thomists alone understand it in another sense. All the women,
who form one-half of the world, all courtiers, all military men, all
magistrates, all lawyers, merchants, artisans, the whole populace-
in short, all sorts of men, except the Dominicans, understand the word
sufficient to express all that is necessary. Scarcely any one is aware
of this singular exception. It is reported over the whole earth,
simply that the Dominicans hold that all men have the sufficient
graces. What other conclusion can be drawn from this, than that they
hold that all men have all the graces necessary for action; especially
when they are seen joined in interest and intrigue with the Jesuits,
who understand the thing in that sense? Is not the uniformity of
your expressions, viewed in connection with this union of party, a
manifest indication and confirmation of the uniformity of your
"The multitude of the faithful inquire of theologians: What is the
real condition of human nature since its corruption? St. Augustine and
his disciples reply that it has no sufficient grace until God is
pleased to bestow it. Next come the Jesuits, and they say that all
have the effectually sufficient graces. The Dominicans are consulted
on this contrariety of opinion; and what course do they pursue? They
unite with the Jesuits; by this coalition they make up a majority;
they secede from those who deny these sufficient graces; they
declare that all men possess them. Who, on hearing this, would imagine
anything else than that they gave their sanction to the opinion of the
Jesuits? And then they add that, nevertheless, these said sufficient
graces are perfectly useless without the efficacious, which are not
given to all!
"Shall I present you with a picture of the Church amidst these
conflicting sentiments? I consider her very like a man who, leaving
his native country on a journey, is encountered by robbers, who
inflict many wounds on him and leave him half dead. He sends for three
physicians resident in the neighboring towns. The first, on probing
his wounds, pronounces them mortal and assures him that none but God
can restore to him his lost powers. The second, coming after the
other, chooses to flatter the man- tells him that he has still
sufficient strength to reach his home; and, abusing the first
physician who opposed his advice, determines upon his ruin. In this
dilemma, the poor patient, observing the third medical gentleman at
a distance, stretches out his hands to him as the person who should
determine the controversy. This practitioner, on examining his wounds,
and ascertaining the opinions of the first two doctors, embraces
that of the second, and uniting with him, the two combine against
the first, and being the stronger party in number drive him from the
field in disgrace. From this proceeding, the patient naturally
concludes that the last comer is of the same opinion with the
second; and, on putting the question to him, he assures him most
positively that his strength is sufficient for prosecuting his
journey. The wounded man, however, sensible of his own weakness,
begs him to explain to him how he considered him sufficient for the
journey. 'Because,' replies his adviser, 'you are still in
possession of your legs, and legs are the organs which naturally
suffice for walking.' 'But,' says the patient, 'have I all the
strength necessary to make use of my legs? for, in my present weak
condition, it humbly appears to me that they are wholly useless.'
'Certainly you have not,' replies the doctor; 'you will never walk
effectively, unless God vouchsafes some extraordinary assistance to
sustain and conduct you.' 'What!' exclaims the poor man, 'do you not
mean to say that I have sufficient strength in me, so as to want for
nothing to walk effectively?' 'Very far from it,' returns the
physician. 'You must, then,' says the patient, 'be of a different
opinion from your companion there about my real condition.' 'I must
admit that I am,' replies the other.
"What do you suppose the patient said to this? Why, he
complained of the strange conduct and ambiguous terms of this third
physician. He censured him for taking part with the second, to whom he
was opposed in sentiment, and with whom he had only the semblance of
agreement, and for having driven away the first doctor, with whom he
in reality agreed; and, after making a trial of strength, and
finding by experience his actual weakness, he sent them both about
their business, recalled his first adviser, put himself under his
care, and having, by his advice, implored from God the strength of
which he confessed his need, obtained the mercy he sought, and,
through divine help, reached his house in peace.
The worthy monk was so confounded with this parable that he
could not find words to reply. To cheer him up a little, I said to
him, in a mild tone: "But after all, my dear father, what made you
think of giving the name of sufficient to a grace which you say it
is a point of faith to believe is, in fact, insufficient?" "It is very
easy for you to talk about it," said he. "You are an independent and
private man; I am a monk and in a community- cannot you estimate the
difference between the two cases? We depend on superiors; they
depend on others. They have promised our votes- what would you have to
become of me?" We understood the hint; and this brought to our
recollection the case of his brother monk, who, for a similar piece of
indiscretion, has been exiled to Abbeville.
"But," I resumed, "how comes it about that your community is bound
to admit this grace?" "That is another question," he replied. "All
that I can tell you is, in one word, that our order has defended, to
the utmost of its ability, the doctrine of St. Thomas on efficacious
grace. With what ardor did it oppose, from the very commencement,
the doctrine of Molina? How did it labor to establish the necessity of
the efficacious grace of Jesus Christ? Don't you know what happened
under Clement VIII and Paul V, and how, the former having been
prevented by death, and the latter hindered by some Italian affairs
from publishing his bull, our arms still sleep in the Vatican? But the
Jesuits, availing themselves, since the introduction of the heresy
of Luther and Calvin, of the scanty light which the people possess for
discriminating between the error of these men and the truth of the
doctrine of St. Thomas, disseminated their principles with such
rapidity and success that they became, ere long, masters of the
popular belief; while we, on our part, found ourselves in the
predicament of being denounced as Calvinists and treated as the
Jansenists are at present, unless we qualified the efficacious grace
with, at least, the apparent avowal of a sufficient. In this
extremity, what better course could we have taken for saving the
truth, without losing our own credit, than by admitting the name of
sufficient grace, while we denied that it was such in effect? Such
is the real history of the case."
This was spoken in such a melancholy tone that I really began to
pity the man; not so, however, my companion. "Flatter not yourselves,"
said he to the monk, "with having saved the truth; had she not found
other defenders, in your feeble hands she must have perished. By
admitting into the Church the name of her enemy, you have admitted the
enemy himself. Names are inseparable from things. If the term
sufficient grace be once established, it will be vain for you to
protest that you understand by it a grace which is not sufficient.
Your protest will be held inadmissible. Your explanation would be
scouted as odious in the world, where men speak more ingenuously about
matters of infinitely less moment. The Jesuits will gain a triumph- it
will be their grace, which is sufficient in fact, and not yours, which
is only so in name, that will pass as established; and the converse of
your creed will become an article of faith."
"We will all suffer martyrdom first," cried the father, "rather
than consent to the establishment of sufficient grace in the sense
of the Jesuits. St. Thomas, whom we have sworn to follow even to the
death, is diametrically opposed to such doctrine."
To this my friend, who took up the matter more seriously than I
did, replied: "Come now, father, your fraternity has received an honor
which it sadly abuses. It abandons that grace which was confided to
its care, and which has never been abandoned since the creation of the
world. That victorious grace, which was waited for by the
patriarchs, predicted by the prophets, introduced by Jesus Christ,
preached by St. Paul, explained by St. Augustine, the greatest of
the fathers, embraced by his followers, confirmed by St. Bernard,
the last of the fathers, supported by St. Thomas, the angel of the
schools, transmitted by him to your order, maintained by so many of
your fathers, and so nobly defended by your monks under Popes
Clement and Paul- that efficacious grace, which had been committed
as a sacred deposit into your hands, that it might find, in a sacred
and everlasting order, a succession of preachers, who might proclaim
it to the end of time- is discarded and deserted for interests the
most contemptible. It is high time for other hands to arm in its
quarrel. It is time for God to raise up intrepid disciples of the
Doctor of grace, who, strangers to the entanglements of the world,
will serve God for God's sake. Grace may not, indeed, number the
Dominicans among her champions, but champions she shall never want;
for, by her own almighty energy, she creates them for herself. She
demands hearts pure and disengaged; nay, she herself purifies and
disengages them from worldly interests, incompatible with the truths
of the Gospel. Reflect seriously, on this, father; and take care
that God does not remove this candlestick from its place, leaving
you in darkness and without the crown, as a punishment for the
coldness which you manifest to a cause so important to his Church."
He might have gone on in this strain much longer, for he was
kindling as he advanced, but I interrupted him by rising to take my
leave and said: "Indeed, my dear father, had I any influence in
France, I should have it proclaimed, by sound of trumpet: 'BE IT KNOWN
TO ALL MEN, that when the Jacobins SAY that sufficient grace is
given to all, they MEAN that all have not the grace which actually
suffices!' After which, you might say it often as you please, but
not otherwise." And thus ended our visit.
You will perceive, therefore, that we have here a politic
sufficiency somewhat similar to proximate power. Meanwhile I may
tell you that it appears to me that both the proximate power and
this same sufficient grace may be safely doubted by anybody,
provided he is not a Jacobin.
I have just come to learn, when closing my letter, that the
censure has passed. But as I do not yet know in what terms it is
worded, and as it will not be published till the 15th of February, I
shall delay writing you about it till the next post. I am, &c.
REPLY OF THE "PROVINCIAL"
TO THE FIRST TWO LETTERS OF HIS FRIEND
February 2, 1656
Your two letters have not been confined to me. Everybody has
seen them, everybody understands them, and everybody believes them.
They are not only in high repute among theologians- they have proved
agreeable to men of the world, and intelligible even to the ladies.
In a communication which I lately received from one of the
gentlemen of the Academy- one of the most illustrious names in a
society of men who are all illustrious- who had seen only your first
letter, he writes me as follows: "I only wish that the Sorbonne, which
owes so much to the memory of the late cardinal, would acknowledge the
jurisdiction of his French Academy. The author of the letter would
be satisfied; for, in the capacity of an academician, I would
authoritatively condemn, I would banish, I would proscribe- I had
almost said exterminate- to the extent of my power, this proximate
power, which makes so much noise about nothing and without knowing
what it would have. The misfortune is that our academic power is a
very limited and remote power. I am sorry for it; and still more sorry
that my small power cannot discharge me from my obligations to you,"
My next extract is from the pen of a lady, whom I shall not
indicate in any way whatever. She writes thus to a female friend who
had transmitted to her the first of your letters: "You can have no
idea how much I am obliged to you for the letter you sent me- it is so
very ingenious, and so nicely written. It narrates, and yet it is
not a narrative; it clears up the most intricate and involved of all
possible matters; its raillery is exquisite; it enlightens those who
know little about the subject and imparts double delight to those
who understand it. It is an admirable apology; and, if they would so
take it, a delicate and innocent censure. In short, that letter
displays so much art, so much spirit, and so much judgment, that I
burn with curiosity to know who wrote it," &c.
You too, perhaps, would like to know who the lady is that writes
in this style; but you must be content to esteem without knowing
her; when you come to know her, your esteem will be greatly enhanced.
Take my word for it, then, and continue your letters; and let
the censure come when it may, we are quite prepared for receiving
it. These words proximate power and sufficient grace, with which we
are threatened, will frighten us no longer. We have learned from the
Jesuits, the Jacobins, and M. le Moine, in how many different ways
they may be turned, and how little solidity there is in these
new-fangled terms, to give ourselves any trouble about them.
Meanwhile, I remain, &c.
Paris, February 9, 1658
I have just received your letter; and, at the same time, there was
brought me a copy of the censure in manuscript. I find that I am as
well treated in the former as M. Arnauld is ill treated in the latter.
I am afraid there is some extravagance in both cases and that
neither of us is sufficiently well known by our judges. Sure I am
that, were we better known, M. Arnauld would merit the approval of the
Sorbonne, and I the censure of the Academy. Thus our interests are
quite at variance with each other. It is his interest to make
himself known, to vindicate his innocence; whereas it is mine to
remain in the dark, for fear of forfeiting my reputation. Prevented,
therefore, from showing my face, I must devolve on you the task of
making my acknowledgments to my illustrious admirers, while I
undertake that of furnishing you with the news of the censure.
I assure you, sir, it has filled me with astonishment. I
expected to find it condemning the most shocking heresy in the
world, but your wonder will equal mine, when informed that these
alarming preparations, when on the point of producing the grand effect
anticipated, have all ended in smoke.
To understand the whole affair in a pleasant way, only
recollect, I beseech you, the strange impressions which, for a long
time past, we have been taught to form of the Jansenists. Recall to
mind the cabals, the factions, the errors, the schisms, the
outrages, with which they have been so long charged; the manner in
which they have been denounced and vilified from the pulpit and the
press; and the degree to which this torrent of abuse, so remarkable
for its violence and duration, has swollen of late years, when they
have been openly and publicly accused of being not only heretics and
schismatics, but apostates and infidels- with "denying the mystery
of transubstantiation, and renouncing Jesus Christ and the Gospel."
After having published these startling accusations, it was
resolved to examine their writings, in order to pronounce judgement on
them. For this purpose the second letter of M. Arnauld, which was
reported to be full of the greatest errors, is selected. The examiners
appointed are his most open and avowed enemies. They employ all
their learning to discover something that they might lay hold upon,
and at length they produce one proposition of a doctrinal character,
which they exhibit for censure.
What else could any one infer from such proceedings than that this
proposition, selected under such remarkable circumstances, would
contain the essence of the blackest heresies imaginable. And yet the
proposition so entirely agrees with what is clearly and formally
expressed in the passages from the fathers quoted by M. Arnauld that I
have not met with a single individual who could comprehend the
difference between them. Still, however, it might be imagined that
there was a very great difference; for the passages from the fathers
being unquestionably Catholic, the proposition of M. Arnauld, if
heretical, must be widely opposed to them.
Such was the difficulty which the Sorbonne was expected to clear
up. All Christendom waited, with wide-opened eyes, to discover, in the
censure of these learned doctors, the point of difference which had
proved imperceptible to ordinary mortals. Meanwhile M. Arnauld gave in
his defences, placing his own proposition and the passages of the
fathers from which he had drawn it in parallel columns, so as to
make the agreement between them apparent to the most obtuse
He shows, for example, that St. Augustine says in one passage that
"Jesus Christ points out to us, in the person of St. Peter, a
righteous man warning us by his fall to avoid presumption." He cites
another passage from the same father, in which he says "that God, in
order to show us that without grace we can do nothing, left St.
Peter without grace." He produces a third, from St. Chrysostom, who
says, "that the fall of St. Peter happened, not through any coldness
towards Jesus Christ, but because grace failed him; and that he
fell, not so much through his own negligence as through the
withdrawment of God, as a lesson to the whole Church, that without God
we can do nothing." He then gives his own accused proposition, which
is as follows: "The fathers point out to us, in the person of St.
Peter, a righteous man to whom that grace without which we can do
nothing was wanting."
In vain did people attempt to discover how it could possibly be
that M. Arnauld's expression differed from those of the fathers as
much as the truth from error and faith from heresy. For where was
the difference to be found? Could it be in these words: "that the
fathers point out to us, in the person of St. Peter, a righteous man"?
St. Augustine has said the same thing in so many words. Is it
because he says "that grace had failed him"? The same St. Augustine
who had said that "St. Peter was a righteous man," says "that he had
not had grace on that occasion." Is it, then, for his having said
"that without grace we can do nothing"? Why, is not this just what St.
Augustine says in the same place, and what St. Chrysostom had said
before him, with this difference only, that he expresses it in much
stronger language, as when he says "that his fall did not happen
through his own coldness or negligence, but through the failure of
grace, and the withdrawment of God"?
Such considerations as these kept everybody in a state of
breathless suspense to learn in what this diversity could consist,
when at length, after a great many meetings, this famous and
long-looked-for censure made its appearance. But, alas! it has sadly
baulked our expectation. Whether it be that the Molinist doctors would
not condescend so far as to enlighten us on the point, or for some
other mysterious reason, the fact is they have done nothing more
than pronounce these words: "This proposition is rash, impious,
blasphemous, accursed, and heretical!"
Would you believe it, sir, that most people, finding themselves
deceived in their expectations, have got into bad humor, and begin
to fall foul upon the censors themselves? They are drawing strange
inferences from their conduct in favour of M. Arnauld's innocence.
"What!" they are saying, "is this all that could be achieved, during
all this time, by so many doctors joining in a furious attack on one
individual? Can they find nothing in all his works worthy of
reprehension, but three lines, and these extracted, word for word,
from the greatest doctors of the Greek and Latin Churches? Is there
any author whatever whose writings, were it intended to ruin him,
would not furnish a more specious pretext for the purpose? And what
higher proof could be furnished of the orthodoxy of this illustrious
"How comes it to pass," they add, "that so many denunciations
are launched in this censure, into which they have crowded such
terms as 'poison, pestilence, horror, rashness, impiety, blasphemy,
abomination, execration, anathema, heresy'- the most dreadful epithets
that could be used against Arius, or Antichrist himself; and all to
combat an imperceptible heresy, and that, moreover, without telling as
what it is? If it be against the words of the fathers that they
inveigh in this style, where is the faith and tradition? If against M.
Arnauld's proposition, let them point out the difference between the
two; for we can see nothing but the most perfect harmony between them.
As soon as we have discovered the evil of the proposition, we shall
hold it in abhorrence; but so long as we do not see it, or rather
see nothing in the statement but the sentiments of the holy fathers,
conceived and expressed in their own terms, how can we possibly regard
it with any other feelings than those of holy veneration?"
Such is the specimen of the way in which they are giving vent to
their feelings. But these are by far too deep-thinking people. You and
I, who make no pretensions to such extraordinary penetration, may keep
ourselves quite easy about the whole affair. What! would we be wiser
than our masters? No: let us take example from them, and not undertake
what they have not ventured upon. We would be sure to get boggled in
such an attempt. Why it would be the easiest thing imaginable, to
render this censure itself heretical. Truth, we know, is so delicate
that, if we make the slightest deviation from it, we fall into
error; but this alleged error is so extremely finespun that, if we
diverge from it in the slightest degree, we fall back upon the
truth. There is positively nothing between this obnoxious
proposition and the truth but an imperceptible point. The distance
between them is so impalpable that I was in terror lest, from pure
inability to perceive it, I might, in my over-anxiety to agree with
the doctors of the Sorbonne, place myself in opposition to the doctors
of the Church. Under this apprehension, I judged it expedient to
consult one of those who, through policy, was neutral on the first
question, that from him I might learn the real state of the matter.
I have accordingly had an interview with one of the most intelligent
of that party, whom I requested to point out to me the difference
between the two things, at the same time frankly owning to him that
I could see none.
He appeared to be amused at my simplicity and replied, with a
smile: "How simple it is in you to believe that there is any
difference! Why, where could it be? Do you imagine that, if they could
have found out any discrepancy between M. Arnauld and the fathers,
they would not have boldly pointed it out and been delighted with
the opportunity of exposing it before the public, in whose eyes they
are so anxious to depreciate that gentleman?"
I could easily perceive, from these few words, that those who
had been neutral on the first question would not all prove so on the
second; but, anxious to hear his reasons, I asked: "Why, then, have
they attacked this unfortunate proposition?"
"Is it possible," he replied, "you can be ignorant of these two
things, which I thought had been known to the veriest tyro in these
matters? that, on the one hand, M. Arnauld has uniformly avoided
advancing a single tenet which is not powerfully supported by the
tradition of the Church; and that, on the other hand, his enemies have
determined, cost what it may, to cut that ground from under him;
and, accordingly, that as the writings of the former afforded no
handle to the designs of the latter, they have been obliged, in
order to satiate their revenge, to seize on some proposition, it
mattered not what, and to condemn it without telling why or wherefore.
Do not you know how the keep them in check, and annoy them so
desperately that they cannot drop the slightest word against the
principles of the fathers without being incontinently overwhelmed with
whole volumes, under the pressure of which they are forced to succumb?
So that, after a great many proofs of their weakness, they have judged
it more to the purpose, and much less troublesome, to censure than
to reply- it being a much easier matter with them to find monks than
"Why then," said I, "if this be the case, their censure is not
worth a straw; for who will pay any regard to it, when they see it
to be without foundation, and refuted, as it no doubt will be, by
the answers given to it?"
"If you knew the temper of people," replied my friend the
doctor, "you would talk in another sort of way. Their censure,
censurable as it is, will produce nearly all its designed effect for a
time; and although, by the force of demonstration, it is certain that,
in course of time, its invalidity will be made apparent, it is equally
true that, at first, it will tell as effectually on the minds of
most people as if it had been the most righteous sentence in the
world. Let it only be cried about the streets: 'Here you have the
censure of M. Arnauld!- here you have the condemnation of the
Jansenists!' and the Jesuits will find their account in it. How few
will ever read it! How few, of them who do read, will understand it!
How few will observe that it answers no objections! How few will
take the matter to heart, or attempt to sift it to the bottom! Mark,
then, how much advantage this gives to the enemies of the
Jansenists. They are sure to make a triumph of it, though a vain
one, as usual, for some months at least- and that is a great matter
for them, they will look out afterwards for some new means of
subsistence. They live from hand to mouth, sir. It is in this way they
have contrived to maintain themselves down to the present day.
Sometimes it is by a catechism in which a child is made to condemn
their opponents; then it is by a procession, in which sufficient grace
leads the efficacious in triumph; again it is by a comedy, in which
Jansenius is represented as carried off by devils; at another time
it is by an almanac; and now it is by this censure."
"In good sooth," said I "I was on the point of finding fault
with the conduct of the Molinists; but after what you have told me,
I must say I admire their prudence and their policy. I see perfectly
well that they could not have followed a safer or more Judicious
"You are right," returned he; "their safest policy has always been
to keep silent; and this led a certain learned divine to remark, 'that
the cleverest among them are those who intrigue much, speak little,
and write nothing.'
"It is on this principle that, from the commencement of the
meetings, they prudently ordained that, if M. Arnauld came into the
Sorbonne, it must be simply to explain what he believed, and not to
enter the lists of controversy with any one. The examiners, having
ventured to depart a little from this prudent arrangement, suffered
for their temerity. They found themselves rather too vigourously
refuted by his second apology.
"On the same principle, they had recourse to that rare and very
novel device of the half-hour and the sand-glass. By this means they
rid themselves of the importunity of those troublesome doctors, who
might undertake to refute all their arguments, to produce books
which might convict them of forgery, to insist on a reply, and
reduce them to the predicament of having none to give.
"It is not that they were so blind as not to see that this
encroachment on liberty, which has induced so many doctors to withdraw
from the meetings, would do no good to their censure; and that the
protest of nullity, taken on this ground by M. Arnauld before it was
concluded, would be a bad preamble for securing it a favourable
reception. They know very well that unprejudiced persons place fully
as much weight on the judgement of seventy doctors, who had nothing to
gain by defending M. Arnauld, as on that of a hundred others who had
nothing to lose by condemning him. But, upon the whole, they
considered that it would be of vast importance to have a censure,
although it should be the act of a party only in the Sorbonne, and not
of the whole body; although it should be carried with little or no
freedom of debate and obtained by a great many small manoeuvres not
exactly according to order; although it should give no explanation
of the matter in dispute; although it should not point out in what
this heresy consists, and should say as little as possible about it,
for fear of committing a mistake. This very silence is a mystery in
the eyes of the simple; and the censure will reap this singular
advantage from it, that they may defy the most critical and subtle
theologians to find in it a single weak argument.
"Keep yourself easy, then, and do not be afraid of being set
down as a heretic, though you should make use of the condemned
proposition. It is bad, I assure you, only as occurring in the
second letter of M. Arnauld. If you will not believe this statement on
my word, I refer you to M. le Moine, the most zealous of the
examiners, who, in the course of conversation with a doctor of my
acquaintance this very morning, on being asked by him where lay the
point of difference in dispute, and if one would no longer be
allowed to say what the fathers had said before him, made the
following exquisite reply: 'This proposition would be orthodox in
the mouth of any other- it is only as coming from M. Arnauld that
the Sorbonne has condemned it!' You must now be prepared to admire the
machinery of Molinism, which can produce such prodigious
overturnings in the Church- that what is Catholic in the fathers
becomes heretical in M. Arnauld- that what is heretical in the
Semi-Pelagians becomes orthodox in the writings of the Jesuits; the
ancient doctrine of St. Augustine becomes an intolerable innovation,
and new inventions, daily fabricated before our eyes, pass for the
ancient faith of the Church." So saying, he took his leave of me.
This information has satisfied my purpose. I gather from it that
this same heresy is one of an entirely new species. It is not the
sentiments of M. Arnauld that are heretical; it is only his person.
This is a personal heresy. He is not a heretic for anything he has
said or written, but simply because he is M. Arnauld. This is all they
have to say against him. Do what he may, unless he cease to be, he
will never be a good Catholic. The grace of St. Augustine will never
be the true grace, so long as he continues to defend it. It would
become so at once, were he to take it into his head to impugn it. That
would be a sure stroke, and almost the only plan for establishing
the truth and demolishing Molinism; such is the fatality attending all
the opinions which he embraces.
Let us leave them, then, to settle their own differences. These
are the disputes of theologians, not of theology. We, who are no
doctors, have nothing to do with their quarrels. Tell our friends
the news of the censure, and love me while I am, &c.
Paris, February 25, 1656
Nothing can come up to the Jesuits. I have seen Jacobins, doctors,
and all sorts of people in my day, but such an interview as I have
just had was wanting to complete my knowledge of mankind. Other men
are merely copies of them. As things are always found best at the
fountainhead, I paid a visit to one of the ablest among them, in
company with my trusty Jansenist- the same who accompanied me to the
Dominicans. Being particularly anxious to learn something of a dispute
which they have with the Jansenists about what they call actual grace,
I said to the worthy father that I would be much obliged to him if
he would instruct me on this point- that I did not even know what
the term meant and would thank him to explain it. "With all my heart,"
the Jesuit replied; "for I dearly love inquisitive people. Actual
grace, according to our definition, 'is an inspiration of God, whereby
He makes us to know His will and excites within us a desire to perform
"And where," said I, "lies your difference with the Jansenists
on this subject?"
"The difference lies here," he replied; "we hold that God
bestows actual grace on all men in every case of temptation; for we
maintain that unless a person have, whenever tempted, actual grace
to keep him from sinning, his sin, whatever it may be, can never be
imputed to him. The Jansenists, on the other hand, affirm that sins,
though committed without actual grace, are, nevertheless, imputed; but
they are a pack of fools." I got a glimpse of his meaning; but, to
obtain from him a fuller explanation, I observed: "My dear father,
it is that phrase actual grace that puzzles me; I am quite a
stranger to it, and if you would have the goodness to tell me the same
thing over again, without employing that term, you would infinitely
"Very good," returned the father; "that is to say, you want me
to substitute the definition in place of the thing defined; that makes
no alteration of the sense; I have no objections. We maintain it,
then, as an undeniable principle, that an action cannot be imputed
as a sin, unless God bestow on us, before committing it, the knowledge
of the evil that is in the action, and an inspiration inciting us to
avoid it. Do you understand me now?"
Astonished at such a declaration, according to which, no sins of
surprise, nor any of those committed in entire forgetfulness of God,
could be imputed, I turned round to my friend the Jansenist and easily
discovered from his looks that he was of a different way of
thinking. But as he did not utter a word, I said to the monk, "I would
fain wish, my dear father, to think that what you have now said is
true, and that you have good proofs for it."
"Proofs, say you!" he instantly exclaimed: "I shall furnish you
with these very soon, and the very best sort too; let me alone for
So saying, he went in search of his books, and I took this
opportunity of asking my friend if there was any other person who
talked in this manner? "Is this so strange to you?" he replied. "You
may depend upon it that neither the fathers, nor the popes, nor
councils, nor Scripture, nor any book of devotion employ such
language; but, if you wish casuists and modern schoolmen, he will
bring you a goodly number of them on his side." "O! but I care not a
fig about these authors, if they are contrary to tradition," I said.
"You are right," he replied.
As he spoke, the good father entered the room, laden with books;
and presenting to me the first that came to hand. "Read that," he
said; "this is The Summary of Sins, by Father Bauny- the fifth edition
too, you see, which shows that it is a good book."
"It is a pity, however," whispered the Jansenist in my ear,
"that this same book has been condemned at Rome, and by the bishops of
"Look at page 906," said the father. I did so and read as follows:
"In order to sin and become culpable in the sight of God, it is
necessary to know that the thing we wish to do is not good, or at
least to doubt that it is- to fear or to judge that God takes no
pleasure in the action which we contemplate, but forbids it; and in
spite of this, to commit the deed, leap the fence, and transgress."
"This is a good commencement," I remarked. "And yet," said he,
"mark how far envy will carry some people. It was on that very passage
that M. Hallier, before he became one of our friends, bantered
Father Bauny, by applying to him these words: Ecce qui tollit
peccata mundi- 'Behold the man that taketh away the sins of the
"Certainly," said I, "according to Father Bauny, we may be said to
behold a redemption of an entirely new description."
"Would you have a more authentic witness on the point?" added
he. "Here is the book of Father Annat. It is the last that he wrote
against M. Arnauld. Turn up to page 34, where there is a dog's ear,
and read the lines which I have marked with pencil- they ought to be
written in letters of gold." I then read these words: "He that has
no thought of God, nor of his sins, nor any apprehension (that is,
as he explained it, any knowledge) of his obligation to exercise the
acts of love to God or contrition, has no actual grace for
exercising those acts; but it is equally true that he is guilty of
no sin in omitting them, and that, if he is damned, it will not be
as a punishment for that omission." And a few lines below, he adds:
"The same thing may be said of a culpable commission."
"You see," said the monk, "how he speaks of sins of omission and
of commission. Nothing escapes him. What say you to that?"
"Say!" I exclaimed. "I am delighted! What a charming train of
consequences do I discover flowing from this doctrine! I can see the
whole results already; and such mysteries present themselves before
me! Why, I see more people, beyond all comparison, justified by this
ignorance and forgetfulness of God, than by grace and the
sacraments! But, my dear father, are you not inspiring me with a
delusive joy? Are you sure there is nothing here like that sufficiency
which suffices not? I am terribly afraid of the Distinguo; I was taken
in with that once already! Are you quite in earnest?"
"How now!" cried the monk, beginning to get angry, "here is no
matter for jesting. I assure you there is no such thing as
"I am not making a jest of it, said I; "but that is what I
really dread, from pure anxiety to find it true."
"Well then," he said, "to assure yourself still more of it, here
are the writings of M. le Moine, who taught the doctrine in a full
meeting of the Sorbonne. He learned it from us, to be sure; but he has
the merit of having cleared it up most admirably. O how
circumstantially he goes to work! He shows that, in order to make
out action to be a sin, all these things must have passed through
the mind. Read, and weigh every word." I then read what I now give you
in a translation from the original Latin: "1. On the one hand, God
sheds abroad on the soul some measure of love, which gives it a bias
toward the thing commanded; and on the other, a rebellious
concupiscence solicits it in the opposite direction. 2. God inspires
the soul with a knowledge of its own weakness. 3. God reveals the
knowledge of the physician who can heal it. 4. God inspires it with
a desire to be healed. 5. God inspires a desire to pray and solicit
"And unless all these things occur and pass through the soul,"
added the monk, "the action is not properly a sin, and cannot be
imputed, as M. le Moine shows in the same place and in what follows.
Would you wish to have other authorities for this? Here they are."
"All modern ones, however," whispered my Jansenist friend.
"So I perceive," said I to him aside; and then, turning to the
monk: "O my dear sir," cried I, "what a blessing this will be to
some persons of my acquaintance! I must positively introduce them to
you. You have never, perhaps, met with people who had fewer sins to
account for all your life. For, in the first place, they never think
of God at all; their vices have got the better of their reason; they
have never known either their weakness or the physician who can cure
it; they have never thought of 'desiring the health of their soul,'
and still less of 'praying to God to bestow it'; so that, according to
M. le Moine, they are still in the state of baptismal innocence.
They have 'never had a thought of loving God or of being contrite
for their sins'; so that, according to Father Annat, they have never
committed sin through the want of charity and penitence. Their life is
spent in a perpetual round of all sorts of pleasures, in the course of
which they have not been interrupted by the slightest remorse. These
excesses had led me to imagine that their perdition was inevitable;
but you, father, inform me that these same excesses secure their
salvation. Blessings on you, my good father, for this way of
justifying people! Others prescribe painful austerities for healing
the soul; but you show that souls which may be thought desperately
distempered are in quite good health. What an excellent device for
being happy both in this world and in the next! I had always
supposed that the less a man thought of God, the more he sinned;
but, from what I see now, if one could only succeed in bringing
himself not to think upon God at all, everything would be pure with
him in all time coming. Away with your half-and-half sinners, who
retain some sneaking affection for virtue! They will be damned every
one of them, these semi-sinners. But commend me to your arrant
sinners- hardened, unalloyed, out-and-out, thorough-bred sinners. Hell
is no place for them; they have cheated the devil, purely by virtue of
their devotion to his service!"
The good father, who saw very well the connection between these
consequences and his principle, dexterously evaded them; and,
maintaining his temper, either from good nature or policy, he merely
replied: "To let you understand how we avoid these inconveniences, you
must know that, while we affirm that these reprobates to whom you
refer would be without sin if they had no thoughts of conversion and
no desires to devote themselves to God, we maintain that they all
actually have such thoughts and desires, and that God never
permitted a man to sin without giving him previously a view of the
evil which he contemplated, and a desire, either to avoid the offence,
or at all events to implore his aid to enable him to avoid it; and
none but Jansenists will assert the contrary."
"Strange! father," returned I; "is this, then, the heresy of the
Jansenists, to deny that every time a man commits a sin he is troubled
with a remorse of conscience, in spite of which, he 'leaps the fence
and transgresses,' as Father Bauny has it? It is rather too good a
joke to be made a heretic for that. I can easily believe that a man
may be damned for not having good thoughts; but it never would have
entered my head to imagine that any man could be subjected to that
doom for not believing that all mankind must have good thoughts!
But, father, I hold myself bound in conscience to disabuse you and
to inform you that there are thousands of people who have no such
desires- who sin without regret- who sin with delight- who make a
boast of sinning. And who ought to know better about these things than
yourself.? You cannot have failed to have confessed some of those to
whom I allude; for it is among persons of high rank that they are most
generally to be met with. But mark, father, the dangerous consequences
of your maxim. Do you not perceive what effect it may have on those
libertines who like nothing better than to find out matter of doubt in
religion? What a handle do you give them, when you assure them, as
an article of faith, that, on every occasion when they commit a sin,
they feel an inward presentiment of the evil and a desire to avoid it?
Is it not obvious that, feeling convinced by their own experience of
the falsity of your doctrine on this point, which you say is a
matter of faith, they will extend the inference drawn from this to all
the other points? They will argue that, since you are not
trustworthy in one article, you are to be suspected in them all; and
thus you shut them up to conclude either that religion is false or
that you must know very little about it."
Here my friend the Jansenist, following up my remarks, said to
him: "You would do well, father, if you wish to preserve your
doctrine, not to explain so precisely as you have done to us what
you mean by actual grace. For, how could you, without forfeiting all
credit in the estimation of men, openly declare that nobody sins
without having previously the knowledge of his weakness, and of a
physician, or the desire of a cure, and of asking it of God? Will it
be believed, on your word, that those who are immersed in avarice,
impurity, blasphemy, duelling, revenge, robbery and sacrilege, have
really a desire to embrace chastity, humility, and the other Christian
virtues? Can it be conceived that those philosophers who boasted so
loudly of the powers of nature, knew its infirmity and its
physician? Will you maintain that those who held it as a settled maxim
that is not God that bestows virtue, and that no one ever asked it
from him,' would think of asking it for themselves? Who can believe
that the Epicureans, who denied a divine providence, ever felt any
inclination to pray to God? men who said that 'it would be an insult
to invoke the Deity in our necessities, as if he were capable of
wasting a thought on beings like us?' In a word, how can it be
imagined that idolaters and atheists, every time they are tempted to
the commission of sin, in other words, infinitely often during their
lives, have a desire to pray to the true God, of whom they are
ignorant, that he would bestow on them virtues of which they have no
"Yes," said the worthy monk, in a resolute tone, "we will affirm
it: and sooner than allow that any one sins without having the
consciousness that he is doing evil, and the desire of the opposite
virtue, we will maintain that the whole world, reprobates and infidels
included, have these inspirations and desires in every case of
temptation. You cannot show me, from the Scripture at least, that this
is not the truth."
On this remark I struck in, by exclaiming: "What! father, must
we have recourse to the Scripture to demonstrate a thing so clear as
this? This is not a point of faith, nor even of reason. It is a matter
of fact: we see it- we know it- we feel it."
But the Jansenist, keeping the monk to his own terms, addressed
him as follows: "If you are willing, father, to stand or fall by
Scripture, I am ready to meet you there; only you must promise to
yield to its authority; and, since it is written that 'God has not
revealed his judgements to the Heathen, but left them to wander in
their own ways,' you must not say that God has enlightened those
whom the Sacred Writings assure us 'he has left in darkness and in the
shadow of death.' Is it not enough to show the erroneousness of your
principle, to find that St. Paul calls himself 'the chief of sinners,'
for a sin which he committed 'ignorantly, and with zeal'? Is it not
enough, to and from the Gospel, that those who crucified Jesus
Christ had need of the pardon which he asked for them, although they
knew not the malice of their action, and would never have committed
it, according to St. Paul, if they had known it? Is it not enough that
Jesus Christ apprises us that there will be persecutors of the Church,
who, while making every effort to ruin her, will 'think that they
are doing God service'; teaching us that this sin, which in the
judgement of the apostle, is the greatest of all sins, may be
committed by persons who, so far from knowing that they were
sinning, would think that they sinned by not committing it? In fine,
it is not enough that Jesus Christ himself has taught us that there
are two kinds of sinners, the one of whom sin with 'knowledge of their
Master's will,' and the other without knowledge; and that both of them
will be 'chastised,' although, indeed, in a different manner?"
Sorely pressed by so many testimonies from Scripture, to which
he had appealed, the worthy monk began to give way; and, leaving the
wicked to sin without inspiration, he said: "You will not deny that
good men, at least, never sin unless God give them"- "You are
flinching," said I, interrupting him; "you are flinching now, my
good father; you abandon the general principle, and, finding that it
will not hold good in regard to the wicked, you would compound the
matter, by making it apply at least to the righteous. But in this
point of view the application of it is, I conceive, so circumscribed
that it will hardly apply to anybody, and it is scarcely worth while
to dispute the point."
My friend, however, who was so ready on the whole question, that I
am inclined to think he had studied it all that very morning, replied:
"This, father, is the last entrenchment to which those of your party
who are willing to reason at all are sure to retreat; but you are
far from being safe even here. The example of the saints is not a whit
more in your favour. Who doubts that they often fall into sins of
surprise, without being conscious of them? Do we not learn from the
saints themselves how often concupiscence lays hidden snares for them;
and how generally it happens, as St. Augustine complains of himself in
his Confessions, that, with all their discretion, they 'give to
pleasure what they mean only to give to necessity'?
"How usual is it to see the more zealous friends of truth betrayed
by the heat of controversy into sallies of bitter passion for their
personal interests, while their consciences, at the time, bear them no
other testimony than that they are acting in this manner purely for
the interests of truth, and they do not discover their mistake till
"What, again, shall we say of those who, as we learn from examples
in ecclesiastical history, eagerly involve themselves in affairs which
are really bad, because they believe them to be really good; and yet
this does not hinder the fathers from condemning such persons as
having sinned on these occasions?
"And were this not the case, how could the saints have their
secret faults? How could it be true that God alone knows the magnitude
and the number of our offences; that no one knows whether he is worthy
of hatred or love; and that the best of saints, though unconscious
of any culpability, ought always, as St. Paul says of himself, to
remain in 'fear and trembling'?
"You perceive, then, father, that this knowledge of the evil and
love of the opposite virtue, which you imagine to be essential to
constitute sin, are equally disproved by the examples of the righteous
and of the wicked. In the case of the wicked, their passion for vice
sufficiently testifies that they have no desire for virtue; and in
regard to the righteous, the love which they bear to virtue plainly
shows that they are not always conscious of those sins which, as the
Scripture teaches, they are daily committing.
"So true is it, indeed, that the righteous often sin through
ignorance, that the greatest saints rarely sin otherwise. For how
can it be supposed that souls so pure, who avoid with so much care and
zeal the least things that can be displeasing to God as soon as they
discover them, and who yet sin many times every day, could possibly
have every time before they fell into sin, 'the knowledge of their
infirmity on that occasion, and of their physician, and the desire
of their souls' health, and of praying to God for assistance,' and
that, in spite of these inspirations, these devoted souls
'nevertheless transgress,' and commit the sin?
"You must conclude then, father, that neither sinners nor yet
saints have always that knowledge, or those desires and
inspirations, every time they offend; that is, to use your own
terms, they have not always actual grace. Say no longer, with your
modern authors, that it is impossible for those to sin who do not know
righteousness; but rather join with St. Augustine and the ancient
fathers in saying that it is impossible not to sin, when we do not
know righteousness: Necesse est ut peccet, a quo ignoratur justilia."
The good father, though thus driven from both of his positions,
did not lose courage, but after ruminating a little, "Ha!" he
exclaimed, "I shall convince you immediately." And again taking up
Father Bauny, he pointed to the same place he had before quoted,
exclaiming, "Look now- see the ground on which he establishes his
opinion! I was sure he would not be deficient in good proofs. Read
what he quotes from Aristotle, and you will see that, after so express
an authority, you must either burn the books of this prince of
philosophers or adopt our opinion. Hear, then, the principles which
support Father Bauny: Aristotle states first, 'that an action cannot
be imputed as blameworthy, if it be involuntary.'"
"I grant that," said my friend.
"This is the first time you have agreed together," said I. "Take
my advice, father, and proceed no further."
"That would be doing nothing," he replied; "we must know what
are the conditions necessary to constitute an action voluntary."
"I am much afraid," returned I, "that you will get at
loggerheads on that point."
"No fear of that," said he; "this is sure ground- Aristotle is
on my side. Hear now, what Father Bauny says: 'In order that an action
be voluntary, it must proceed from a man who perceives, knows, and
comprehends what is good and what is evil in it. Voluntarium est- that
is a voluntary action, as we commonly say with the philosopher'
(that is Aristotle, you know, said the monk, squeezing my hand); 'quod
fit a principio cognoscente singula in quibus est actio- which is done
by a person knowing the particulars of the action; so that when the
will is led inconsiderately, and without mature reflection, to embrace
or reject, to do or omit to do anything, before the understanding
has been able to see whether it would be right or wrong, such an
action is neither good nor evil; because previous to this mental
inquisition, view, and reflection on the good or bad qualities of
the matter in question, the act by which it is done is not voluntary.'
Are you satisfied now?" said the father.
"It appears," returned I, "that Aristotle agrees with Father
Bauny; but that does not prevent me from feeling surprised at this
statement. What, sir! is it not enough to make an action voluntary
that the man knows what he is doing, and does it just because he
chooses to do it? Must we suppose, besides this, that he 'perceives,
knows, and comprehends what is good and evil in the action'? Why, on
this supposition there would be hardly such a thing in nature as
voluntary actions, for no one scarcely thinks about all this. How many
oaths in gambling, how many excesses in debauchery, how many riotous
extravagances in the carnival, must, on this principle, be excluded
from the list of voluntary actions, and consequently neither good
nor bad, because not accompanied by those 'mental reflections on the
good and evil qualities' of the action? But is it possible, father,
that Aristotle held such a sentiment? I have always understood that he
was a sensible man."
"I shall soon convince you of that, said the Jansenist, and
requesting a sight of Aristotle's Ethics, he opened it at the
beginning of the third book, from which Father Bauny had taken the
passage quoted, and said to the monk: "I excuse you, my dear sir,
for having believed, on the word of Father Bauny, that Aristotle
held such a sentiment; but you would have changed your mind had you
read him for yourself. It is true that he teaches, that 'in order to
make an action voluntary, we must know the particulars of that
action'- singula in quibus est actio. But what else does he means by
that, than the circumstances of the action? The examples which he
adduces clearly show this to be his meaning, for they are
exclusively confined to cases in which the persons were ignorant of
some of the circumstances; such as that of 'a person who, wishing to
exhibit a machine, discharges a dart which wounds a bystander; and
that of Merope, who killed her own son instead of her enemy,' and such
"Thus you see what is the kind of ignorance that renders actions
involuntary; namely, that of the particular circumstances, which is
termed by divines, as you must know, ignorance of the fact. But with
respect to ignorance of the right- ignorance of the good or evil in an
action- which is the only point in question, let us see if Aristotle
agrees with Father Bauny. Here are the words of the philosopher:
'All wicked men are ignorant of what they ought to do, and what they
ought to avoid; and it is this very ignorance which makes them
wicked and vicious. Accordingly, a man cannot be said to act
involuntarily merely because he is ignorant of what it is proper for
him to do in order to fulfil his duty. This ignorance in the choice of
good and evil does not make the action involuntary; it only makes it
vicious. The same thing may be affirmed of the man who is ignorant
generally of the rules of his duty; such ignorance is worthy of blame,
not of excuse. And consequently, the ignorance which renders actions
involuntary and excusable is simply that which relates to the fact and
its particular circumstances. In this case the person is excused and
forgiven, being considered as having acted contrary to his
"After this, father, will you maintain that Aristotle is of your
opinion? And who can help being astonished to find that a Pagan
philosopher had more enlightened views than your doctors, in a
matter so deeply affecting morals, and the direction of conscience,
too, as the knowledge of those conditions which render actions
voluntary or involuntary, and which, accordingly, charge or
discharge them as sinful? Look for no more support, then, father, from
the prince of philosophers, and no longer oppose yourselves to the
prince of theologians, who has thus decided the point in the first
book of his Retractations, chapter xv: 'Those who sin through
ignorance, though they sin without meaning to sin, commit the deed
only because they will commit it. And, therefore, even this sin of
ignorance cannot be committed except by the will of him who commits
it, though by a will which incites him to the action merely, and not
to the sin; and yet the action itself is nevertheless sinful, for it
is enough to constitute it such that he has done what he was bound not
The Jesuit seemed to be confounded more with the passage from
Aristotle, I thought, than that from St. Augustine; but while he was
thinking on what he could reply, a messenger came to inform him that
Madame la Marechale of- , and Madame the Marchioness of- , requested
his attendance. So, taking a hasty leave of us, he said: "I shall
speak about it to our fathers. They will find an answer to it, I
warrant you; we have got some long heads among us."
We understood him perfectly well; and, on our being left alone,
I expressed to my friend my astonishment at the subversion which
this doctrine threatened to the whole system of morals. To this he
replied that he was quite astonished at my astonishment. "Are you
not yet aware," he said, "that they have gone to far greater excess in
morals than in any other matter?" He gave me some strange
illustrations of this, promising me more at some future time. The
information which I may receive on this point will, I hope, furnish
the topic of my next communication. I am, &c.
Paris, March 20, 1656
According to my promise, I now send you the first outlines of
the morals taught by those good fathers the Jesuits, "those men
distinguished for learning and sagacity, who are all under the
guidance of divine wisdom- a surer guide than all philosophy." You
imagine, perhaps, that I am in jest, but I am perfectly serious; or
rather, they are so when they speak thus of themselves in their book
entitied The Image of the First Century. I am only copying their own
words, and may now give you the rest of the eulogy: "They are a
society of men, or rather let us call them angels, predicted by Isaiah
in these words, 'Go, ye swift and ready angels.'" The prediction is as
clear as day, is it not? "They have the spirit of eagles they are a
flock of phoenixes (a late author having demonstrated that there are a
great many of these birds); they have changed the face of
Christendom!" Of course, we must believe all this, since they have
said it; and in one sense you will find the account amply verified
by the sequel of this communication, in which I propose to treat of
Determined to obtain the best possible information, I did not
trust to the representations of our friend the Jansenist, but sought
an interview with some of themselves. I found however, that he told me
nothing but the bare truth, and I am persuaded he is an honest man. Of
this you may judge from the following account of these conferences.
In the conversation I had with the Jansenist, he told me so many
strange things about these fathers that I could with difficulty
believe them, till he pointed them out to me in their writings;
after which he left me nothing more to say in their defence than
that these might be the sentiments of some individuals only, which
it was not fair to impute to the whole fraternity. And, indeed, I
assured him that I knew some of them who were as severe as those
whom he quoted to me were lax. This led him to explain to me the
spirit of the Society, which is not known to every one; and you will
perhaps have no objections to learning something about it.
"You imagine," he began, "that it would tell considerably in their
favour to show that some of their fathers are as friendly to
Evangelical maxims as others are opposed to them; and you would
conclude from that circumstance, that these loose opinions do not
belong to the whole Society. That I grant you; for had such been the
case, they would not have suffered persons among them holding
sentiments so diametrically opposed to licentiousness. But, as it is
equally true that there are among them those who hold these licentious
doctrines, you are bound also to conclude that the holy Spirit of
the Society is not that of Christian severity, for had such been the
case, they would not have suffered persons among them holding
sentiments so diametrically opposed to that severity."
"And what, then," I asked, "can be the design of the whole as a
body? Perhaps they have no fixed principle, and every one is left to
speak out at random whatever he thinks."
"That cannot be," returned my friend; "such an immense body
could not subsist in such a haphazard sort of way, or without a soul
to govern and regulate its movements; besides, it is one of their
express regulations that none shall print a page without the
approval of their superiors."
"But," said I, "how can these same superiors give their consent to
maxims so contradictory?"
"That is what you have yet to learn," he replied. "Know then
that their object is not the corruption of manners- that is not
their design. But as little is it their sole aim to reform them-
that would be bad policy. Their idea is briefly this: They have such a
good opinion of themselves as to believe that it is useful, and in
some sort essentially necessary to the good of religion, that their
influence should extend everywhere, and that they should govern all
consciences. And the Evangelical or severe maxims being best fitted
for managing some sorts of people, they avail themselves of these when
they find them favourable to their purpose. But as these maxims do not
suit the views of the great bulk of the people, they waive them in the
case of such persons, in order to keep on good terms with all the
world. Accordingly, having to deal with persons of all classes and
of all different nations, they find it necessary to have casuists
assorted to match this diversity.
"On this principle, you will easily see that, if they had none but
the looser sort of casuists, they would defeat their main design,
which is to embrace all; for those that are truly pious are fond of
a stricter discipline. But as there are not many of that stamp, they
do not require many severe directors to guide them. They have a few
for the select few; while whole multitudes of lax casuists are
provided for the multitudes that prefer laxity.
"It is in virtue of this 'obliging and accommodating, conduct,' as
Father Petau calls it, that they may be said to stretch out a
helping hand to all mankind. Should any person present himself
before them, for example, fully resolved to make restitution of some
ill-gotten gains, do not suppose that they would dissuade him from it.
By no means; on the contrary, they would applaud and confirm him in
such a holy resolution. But suppose another should come who wishes
to be absolved without restitution, and it will be a particularly hard
case indeed, if they cannot furnish him with means of evading the
duty, of one kind or another, the lawfulness of which they will be
ready to guarantee.
"By this policy they keep all their friends, and defend themselves
against all their foes; for when charged with extreme laxity, they
have nothing more to do than produce their austere directors, with
some books which they have written on the severity of the Christian
code of morals; and simple people, or those who never look below the
surface of things, are quite satisfied with these proofs of the
falsity of the accusation.
"Thus, are they prepared for all sorts of persons, and so ready
are they to suit the supply to the demand that, when they happen to be
in any part of the world where the doctrine of a crucified God is
accounted foolishness, they suppress the offence of the cross and
preach only a glorious and not a suffering Jesus Christ. This plan
they followed in the Indies and in China, where they permitted
Christians to practise idolatry itself, with the aid of the
following ingenious contrivance: they made their converts conceal
under their clothes an image of Jesus Christ, to which they taught
them to transfer mentally those adorations which they rendered
ostensibly to the idol of Cachinchoam and Keum-fucum. This charge is
brought against them by Gravina, a Dominican, and is fully established
by the Spanish memorial presented to Philip IV, king of Spain, by
the Cordeliers of the Philippine Islands, quoted by Thomas Hurtado, in
his Martyrdom of the Faith, page 427. To such a length did this
practice go that the Congregation De Propaganda were obliged expressly
to forbid the Jesuits, on pain of excommunication, to permit the
worship of idols on any pretext whatever, or to conceal the mystery of
the cross from their catechumens; strictly enjoining them to admit
none to baptism who were not thus instructed, and ordering them to
expose the image of the crucifix in their churches: all of which is
amply detailed in the decree of that Congregation, dated the 9th of
July, 1646, and signed by Cardinal Capponi.
"Such is the manner in which they have spread themselves over
the whole earth, aided by the doctrine of probable opinions, which
is at once the source and the basis of all this licentiousness. You
must get some of themselves to explain this doctrine to you. They make
no secret of it, any more than of what you have already learned;
with this difference only, that they conceal their carnal and
worldly policy under the garb of divine and Christian prudence; as
if the faith, and tradition, its ally, were not always one and the
same at all times and in all places; as if it were the part of the
rule to bend in conformity to the subject which it was meant to
regulate; and as if souls, to be purified from their pollutions, had
only to corrupt the law of the Lord, in place of the law of the
Lord, which is clean and pure, converting the soul which lieth in sin,
and bringing it into conformity with its salutary lessons!
"Go and see some of these worthy fathers, I beseech you, and I
am confident that you will soon discover, in the laxity of their moral
system, the explanation of their doctrine about grace. You will then
see the Christian virtues exhibited in such a strange aspect, so
completely stripped of the charity which is the life and soul of them,
you will see so many crimes palliated and irregularities tolerated
that you will no longer be surprised at their maintaining that 'all
men have always enough of grace' to lead a pious life, in the sense of
which they understand piety. Their morality being entirely Pagan,
nature is quite competent to its observance. When we maintain the
necessity of efficacious grace, we assign it another sort of virtue
for its object. Its office is not to cure one vice by means of
another; it is not merely to induce men to practise the external
duties of religion: it aims at a virtue higher than that propounded by
Pharisees, or the greatest sages of Heathenism. The law and reason are
'sufficient graces' for these purposes. But to disenthral the soul
from the love of the world- to tear it from what it holds most dear-
to make it die to itself- to lift it up and bind it wholly, only,
and forever, to God can be the work of none but an all-powerful
hand. And it would be as absurd to affirm that we have the full
power of achieving such objects, as it would be to allege that those
virtues, devoid of the love of God, which these fathers confound
with the virtues of Christianity, are beyond our power."
Such was the strain of my friend's discourse, which was
delivered with much feeling; for he takes these sad disorders very
much to heart. For my own part, I began to entertain a high admiration
for these fathers, simply on account of the ingenuity of their policy;
and, following his advice, I waited on a good casuist of the
Society, one of my old acquaintances, with whom I now resolved
purposely to renew my former intimacy. Having my instructions how to
manage them, I had no great difficulty in getting him afloat.
Retaining his old attachment, he received me immediately with a
profusion of kindness; and, after talking over some indifferent
matters, I took occasion from the present season to learn something
from him about fasting and, thus, slip insensibly into the main
subject. I told him, therefore, that I had difficulty in supporting
the fast. He exhorted me to do violence to my inclinations; but, as
I continued to murmur, he took pity on me and began to search out some
ground for a dispensation. In fact he suggested a number of excuses
for me, none of which happened to suit my case, till at length he
bethought himself of asking me whether I did not find it difficult
to sleep without taking supper. "Yes, my good father," said I; "and
for that reason I am obliged often to take a refreshment at mid-day
and supper at night."
"I am extremely happy," he replied, "to have found out a way of
relieving you without sin: go in peace- you are under no obligation to
fast. However, I would not have you depend on my word: step this way
to the library."
On going thither with me he took up a book, exclaiming with
great rapture, "Here is the authority for you: and, by my
conscience, such an authority! It is Escobar!"
"Who is Escobar?" I inquired.
"What! not know Escobar! " cried the monk; "the member of our
Society who compiled this Moral Theology from twenty-four of our
fathers, and on this founds an analogy, in his preface, between his
book and 'that in the Apocalypse which was sealed with seven seals,'
and states that 'Jesus presents it thus sealed to the four living
creatures, Suarez, Vasquez, Molina, and Valencia, in presence of the
four-and-twenty Jesuits who represent the four-and-twenty elders.'"
He read me, in fact, the whole of that allegory, which he
pronounced to be admirably appropriate, and which conveyed to my
mind a sublime idea of the exellence of the work. At length, having
sought out the passage of fasting, "Oh, here it is!" he said;
"treatise I, example 13, no. 67: 'If a man cannot sleep without taking
supper, is he bound to fast? Answer: By no means!' Will that not
"Not exactly," replied I; "for I might sustain the fast by
taking my refreshment in the morning, and supping at night."
"Listen, then, to what follows; they have provided for all that:
'And what is to be said, if the person might make a shift with a
refreshment in the morning and supping at night?'"
"That's my case exactly."
"'Answer: Still he is not obliged to fast; because no person is
obliged to change the order of his meals.'"
"A most excellent reason!" I exclaimed.
"But tell me, pray," continued the monk, "do you take much wine?"
"No, my dear father," I answered; "I cannot endure it."
"I merely put the question," returned he, "to apprise you that you
might, without breaking the fast, take a glass or so in the morning,
or whenever you felt inclined for a drop; and that is always something
in the way of supporting nature. Here is the decision at the same
place, no. 57: 'May one, without breaking the fast, drink wine at
any hour he pleases, and even in a large quantity? Yes, he may: and
a dram of hippocrass too.' I had no recollection of the hippocrass,"
said the monk; "I must take a note of that in my memorandum-book."
"He must be a nice man, this Escobar," observed I.
"Oh! everybody likes him," rejoined the father; "he has such
delightful questions! Only observe this one in the same place, no. 38:
'If a man doubt whether he is twenty-one years old, is he obliged to
fast? No. But suppose I were to be twenty-one to-night an hour after
midnight, and to-morrow were the fast, would I be obliged to fast
to-morrow? No; for you were at liberty to eat as much as you pleased
for an hour after midnight, not being till then fully twenty-one;
and therefore having a right to break the fast day, you are not
obliged to keep it.'"
"Well, that is vastly entertaining!" cried I.
"Oh," rejoined the father, "it is impossible to tear one's self
away from the book: I spend whole days and nights in reading it; in
fact, I do nothing else."
The worthy monk, perceiving that I was interested, was quite
delighted, and went on with his quotations. "Now," said he, "for a
taste of Filiutius, one of the four-and-twenty Jesuits: 'Is a man
who has exhausted himself any way- by profligacy, for example- obliged
to fast? By no means. But if he has exhausted himself expressly to
procure a dispensation from fasting, will he be held obliged? He
will not, even though he should have had that design.' There now!
would you have believed that?"
"Indeed, good father, I do not believe it yet," said I. "What!
is it no sin for a man not to fast when he has it in his power? And is
it allowable to court occasions of committing sin, or rather, are we
not bound to shun them? That would be easy enough, surely."
"Not always so," he replied; "that is just as it may happen."
"Happen, how?" cried I.
"Oh!" rejoined the monk, "so you think that if a person experience
some inconvenience in avoiding the occasions of sin, he is still bound
to do so? Not so thinks Father Bauny. 'Absolution,' says he, 'is not
to be refused to such as continue in the proximate occasions of sin,
if they are so situated that they cannot give them up without becoming
the common talk of the world, or subjecting themselves to personal
"I am glad to hear it, father," I remarked; "and now that we are
not obliged to avoid the occasions of sin, nothing more remains but to
say that we may deliberately court them."
"Even that is occasionally permitted," added he; "the celebrated
casuist, Basil Ponce, has said so, and Father Bauny quotes his
sentiment with approbation in his Treatise on Penance, as follows: 'We
may seek an occasion of sin directly and designedly- primo et per
se- when our own or our neighbour's spiritual or temporal advantage
induces us to do so.'"
"Truly," said I, "it appears to be all a dream to me, when I
hear grave divines talking in this manner! Come now, my dear father,
tell me conscientiously, do you hold such a sentiment as that?"
"No, indeed," said he, "I do not."
"You are speaking, then, against your conscience," continued I.
"Not at all," he replied; "I was speaking on that point not
according to my own conscience, but according to that of Ponce and
Father Bauny, and them you may follow with the utmost safety, for I
assure you that they are able men."
"What, father! because they have put down these three lines in
their books, will it therefore become allowable to court the occasions
of sin? I always thought that we were bound to take the Scripture
and the tradition of the Church as our only rule, and not your
"Goodness!" cried the monk, "I declare you put me in mind of these
Jansenists. Think you that Father Bauny and Basil Ponce are not able
to render their opinion probable?"
"Probable won't do for me," said I; "I must have certainty."
"I can easily see," replied the good father, "that you know
nothing about our doctrine of probable opinions. If you did, you would
speak in another strain. Ah! my dear sir, I must really give you
some instructions on this point; without knowing this, positively
you can understand nothing at all. It is the foundation- the very A,
B, C, of our whole moral philosophy."
Glad to see him come to the point to which I had been drawing
him on, I expressed my satisfaction and requested him to explain
what was meant by a probable opinion?
"That," he replied, "our authors will answer better than I can do.
The generality of them, and, among others, our four-and-twenty elders,
describe it thus: 'An opinion is called probable when it is founded
upon reasons of some consideration. Hence it may sometimes happen that
a single very grave doctor may render an opinion probable.' The reason
is added: 'For a man particularly given to study would not adhere to
an opinion unless he was drawn to it by a good and sufficient
"So it would appear," I observed, with a smile, "that a single
doctor may turn consciences round about and upside down as he pleases,
and yet always land them in a safe position."
"You must not laugh at it, sir," returned the monk; "nor need
you attempt to combat the doctrine. The Jansenists tried this; but
they might have saved themselves the trouble- it is too firmly
established. Hear Sanchez, one of the most famous of our fathers: 'You
may doubt, perhaps, whether the authority of a single good and learned
doctor renders an opinion probable. I answer that it does; and this is
confirmed by Angelus, Sylvester, Navarre, Emanuel Sa, &c. It is proved
thus: A probable opinion is one that has a considerable foundation.
Now the authority of a learned and pious man is entitled to very great
consideration; because (mark the reason), if the testimony of such a
man has great influence in convincing us that such and such an event
occurred, say at Rome, for example, why should it not have the same
weight in the case of a question in morals?'"
"An odd comparison this," interrupted I, "between the concerns
of the world and those of conscience!"
"Have a little patience," rejoined the monk; "Sanchez answers that
in the very next sentence: 'Nor can I assent to the qualification made
here by some writers, namely, that the authority of such a doctor,
though sufficient in matters of human right, is not so in those of
divine right. It is of vast weight in both cases.'"
"Well, father," said I, frankly, "I really cannot admire that
rule. Who can assure me, considering the freedom your doctors claim to
examine everything by reason, that what appears safe to one may seem
so to all the rest? The diversity of judgements is so great"-
"You don't understand it," said he, interrupting me; "no doubt
they are often of different sentiments, but what signifies that?
Each renders his own opinion probable and safe. We all know well
enough that they are far from being of the same mind; what is more,
there is hardly an instance in which they ever agree. There are very
few questions, indeed, in which you do not find the one saying yes and
the other saying no. Still, in all these cases, each of the contrary
opinions is probable. And hence Diana says on a certain subject:
'Ponce and Sanchez hold opposite views of it; but, as they are both
learned men, each renders his own opinion probable.'"
"But, father," I remarked, "a person must be sadly embarrassed
in choosing between them!" "Not at all," he rejoined; "he has only
to follow the opinion which suits him best." "What! if the other is
more probable?" "It does not signify," "And if the other is the
safer?" "It does not signify," repeated the monk; "this is made
quite plain by Emanuel Sa, of our Society, in his Aphorisms: 'A person
may do what he considers allowable according to a probable opinion,
though the contrary may be the safer one. The opinion of a single
grave doctor is all that is requisite.'"
"And if an opinion be at once the less probable and the less safe,
it is allowable to follow it," I asked, "even in the way of
rejecting one which we believe to be more probable and safe?"
"Once more, I say yes," replied the monk. "Hear what Filiutius,
that great Jesuit of Rome, says: 'It is allowable to follow the less
probable opinion, even though it be the less safe one. That is the
common judgement of modern authors.' Is not that quite clear?"
"Well, reverend father," said I, "you have given us elbowroom,
at all events! Thanks to your probable opinions, we have got liberty
of conscience with a witness! And are you casuists allowed the same
latitude in giving your responses?"
"Oh, yes," said he, "we answer just as we please; or rather, I
should say, just as it may please those who ask our advice. Here are
our rules, taken from Fathers Layman, Vasquez, Sanchez, and the
four-and-twenty worthies, in the words of Layman: 'A doctor, on
being consulted, may give an advice, not only probable according to
his own opinion, but contrary to his own opinion, provided this
judgement happens to be more favourable or more agreeable to the
person that consults him- si forte haec favorabilior seu exoptatior
sit. Nay, I go further and say that there would be nothing
unreasonable in his giving those who consult him a judgement held to
be probable by some learned person, even though he should be satisfied
in his own mind that it is absolutely false.'"
"Well, seriously, father," I said, "your doctrine is a most
uncommonly comfortable one! Only think of being allowed to answer
yes or no, just as you please! It is impossible to prize such a
privilege too highly. I see now the advantage of the contrary opinions
of your doctors. One of them always serves your turn, and the other
never gives you any annoyance. If you do not find your account on
the one side, you fall back on the other and always land in perfect
"That is quite true," he replied; "and, accordingly, we may always
say with Diana, on his finding that Father Bauny was on his side,
while Father Lugo was against him: Saepe premente deo, fert deus alter
* Ovid, Appendice, xiii. "If pressed by any god, we will be
delivered by another."
"I understand you," resumed I; "but a practical difficulty has
just occurred to me, which is this, that supposing a person to have
consulted one of your doctors and obtained from him a pretty liberal
opinion, there is some danger of his getting into a scrape by
meeting a confessor who takes a different view of the matter and
refuses him absolution unless he recant the sentiment of the
casuist. Have you not provided for such a case as that, father?"
"Can you doubt it?" he replied, "We have bound them, sir, to
absolve their penitents who act according to probable opinions,
under the pain of mortal sin, to secure their compliance. 'When the
penitent,' says Father Bauny, 'follows a probable opinion, the
confessor is bound to absolve him, though his opinion should differ
from that of his penitent.'"
"But he does not say it would be a mortal sin not to absolve
him" said I.
"How hasty you are!" rejoined the monk; "listen to what follows;
he has expressly decided that, 'to refuse absolution to a penitent who
acts according to a probable opinion is a sin which is in its nature
mortal.' And, to settle that point, he cites the most illustrious of
our fathers- Suarez, Vasquez, and Sanchez."
"My dear sir," said I, "that is a most prudent regulation. I see
nothing to fear now. No confessor can dare to be refractory after
this. Indeed, I was not aware that you had the power of issuing your
orders on pain of damnation. I thought that your skill had been
confined to the taking away of sins; I had no idea that it extended to
the introduction of new ones. But, from what I now see, you are
"That is not a correct way of speaking," rejoined the father.
"We do not introduce sins; we only pay attention to them. I have had
occasion to remark, two or three times during our conversation, that
you are no great scholastic."
"Be that as it may, father, you have at least answered my
difficulty. But I have another to suggest. How do you manage when
the Fathers of the Church happen to differ from any of your casuists?"
"You really know very little of the subject," he replied. "The
Fathers were good enough for the morality of their own times; but they
lived too far back for that of the present age, which is no longer
regulated by them, but by the modern casuists. On this Father
Cellot, following the famous Reginald, remarks: 'In questions of
morals, the modern casuists are to be preferred to the ancient
fathers, though those lived nearer to the times of the apostles.'
And following out this maxim, Diana thus decides: 'Are beneficiaries
bound to restore their revenue when guilty of mal-appropriation of it?
The ancients would say yes, but the moderns say no; let us, therefore,
adhere to the latter opinion, which relieves from the obligation of
"Delightful words these, and most comfortable they must be to a
great many people!" I observed.
"We leave the fathers," resumed the monk, "to those who deal
with positive divinity. As for us, who are the directors of
conscience, we read very little of them and quote only the modern
casuists. There is Diana, for instance, a most voluminous writer; he
has prefixed to his works a list of his authorities, which amount to
two hundred and ninety-six, and the most ancient of them is only about
eighty years old."
"It would appear, then," I remarked, "that all these have come
into the world since the date of your Society?"
"Thereabouts," he replied.
"That is to say, dear father, on your advent, St. Augustine, St.
Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and all the rest, in so far as
morals are concerned, disappeared from the stage. Would you be so kind
as let me know the names, at least, of those modern authors who have
"A most able and renowned class of men they are," replied the
monk. "Their names are: Villalobos, Conink, Llamas, Achokier,
Dealkozer, Dellacruz, Veracruz, Ugolin, Tambourin, Fernandez,
Martinez, Suarez, Henriquez, Vasquez, Lopez, Gomez, Sanchez, De
Vechis, De Grassis, De Grassalis, De Pitigianis, De Graphaeis,
Squilanti, Bizozeri, Barcola, De Bobadilla, Simanacha, Perez de
Lara, Aldretta, Lorca, De Scarcia, Quaranta, Scophra, Pedrezza,
Cabrezza, Bisbe, Dias, De Clavasio, Villagut, Adam a Manden, Iribarne,
Binsfeld, Volfangi A Vorberg, Vosthery, Strevesdorf."
"O my dear father!" cried I, quite alarmed, "were all these people
"How! Christians!" returned the casuist; "did I not tell you
that these are the only writers by whom we now govern Christendom?"
Deeply affected as I was by this announcement, I concealed my
emotion from the monk and only asked him if all these authors were
"No," said he; "but that is of little consequence; they have
said a number of good things for all that. It is true the greater part
of these same good things are extracted or copied from our authors,
but we do not stand on ceremony with them on that score, more
especially as they are in the constant habit of quoting our authors
with applause. When Diana, for example, who does not belong to our
Society, speaks of Vasquez, he calls him 'that phoenix of genius'; and
he declares more than once 'that Vasquez alone is to him worth all the
rest of men put together'- instar omnium. Accordingly, our fathers
often make use of this good Diana; and, if you understand our doctrine
of probability, you will see that this is no small help in its way. In
fact, we are anxious that others besides the Jesuits would render
their opinions probable, to prevent people from ascribing them all
to us; for you will observe that, when any author, whoever he may
be, advances a probable opinion, we are entitled, by the doctrine of
probability, to adopt it if we please; and yet, if the author does not
belong to our fraternity, we are not responsible for its soundness."
"I understand all that," said I. "It is easy to see that all are
welcome that come your way, except the ancient fathers; you are
masters of the field, and have only to walk the course. But I
foresee three or four serious difficulties and powerful barriers which
will oppose your career."
"And what are these?" cried the monk, looking quite alarmed.
"They are the Holy Scriptures," I replied, "the popes, and the
councils, whom you cannot gainsay, and who are all in the way of the
"Is that all?" he exclaimed; "I declare you put me in a fright. Do
you imagine that we would overlook such an obvious scruple as that, or
that we have not provided against it? A good idea, forsooth, to
suppose that we would contradict Scripture, popes, and councils! I
must convince you of your mistake; for I should be sorry you should go
away with an impression that we are deficient in our respect to
these authorities. You have doubtless taken up this notion from some
of the opinions of our fathers, which are apparently at variance
with their decisions, though in reality they are not. But to
illustrate the harmony between them would require more leisure than we
have at present; and, as I would not like you to retain a bad
impression of us, if you agree to meet with me to-morrow, I shall
clear it all up then."
Thus ended our interview, and thus shall end my present
communication, which has been long enough, besides, for one letter.
I am sure you will be satisfied with it, in the prospect of what is
forthcoming. I am, &c.
Paris, April 10, 1656
I mentioned, at the close of my last letter, that my good
friend, the Jesuit, had promised to show me how the casuists reconcile
the contrarieties between their opinions and the decisions of the
popes, the councils, and the Scripture. This promise he fulfilled at
our last interview, of which I shall now give you an account.
"One of the methods," resumed the monk, "in which we reconcile
these apparent contradictions, is by the interpretation of some
phrase. Thus, Pope Gregory XIV decided that assassins are not worthy
to enjoy the benefit of sanctuary in churches and ought to be
dragged out of them; and yet our four-and-twenty elders affirm that
'the penalty of this bull is not incurred by all those that kill in
treachery.' This may appear to you a contradiction; but we get over
this by interpreting the word assassin as follows: 'Are assassins
unworthy of sanctuary in churches? Yes, by the bull of Gregory XIV
they are. But by the word assassins we understand those that have
received money to murder one; and, accordingly, such as kill without
taking any reward for the deed, but merely to oblige their friends, do
not come under the category of assassins.'"
"Take another instance: It is said in the Gospel, 'Give alms of
your superfluity.' Several casuists, however, have contrived to
discharge the wealthiest from the obligation of alms-giving. This
may appear another paradox, but the matter is easily put to rights
by giving such an interpretation to the word superfluity that it
will seldom or never happen that any one is troubled with such an
article. This feat has been accomplished by the learned Vasquez, in
his Treatise on Alms, c. 4: 'What men of the world lay up to improve
their circumstances, or those of their relatives, cannot be termed
superfluity, and accordingly, such a thing as superfluity is seldom to
be found among men of the world, not even excepting kings.' Diana,
too, who generally founds on our fathers, having quoted these words of
Vasquez, justly concludes, 'that as to the question whether the rich
are bound to give alms of their superfluity, even though the
affirmative were true, it will seldom or never happen to be obligatory
"I see very well how that follows from the doctrine of Vasquez,"
said I. "But how would you answer this objection, that, in working out
one's salvation, it would be as safe, according to Vasquez, to give no
alms, provided one can muster as much ambition as to have no
superfluity; as it is safe, according to the Gospel, to have no
ambition at all, in order to have some superfluity for the purpose
"Why," returned he, "the answer would be that both of these ways
are safe according to the Gospel; the one according to the Gospel in
its more literal and obvious sense, and the other according to the
same Gospel as interpreted by Vasquez. There you see the utility of
interpretations. When the terms are so clear, however," he
continued, "as not to admit of an interpretation, we have recourse
to the observation of favourable circumstances. A single example
will illustrate this. The popes have denounced excommunication on
monks who lay aside their canonicals; our casuists, notwithstanding,
put it as a question, 'On what occasions may a monk lay aside his
religious habits without incurring excommunication?' They mention a
number of cases in which they may, and among others the following: 'If
he has laid it aside for an infamous purpose, such as to pick
pockets or to go incognito into haunts of profligacy, meaning
shortly after to resume it.' It is evident the bulls have no reference
to cases of that description."
I could hardly believe that and begged the father to show me the
passage in the original. He did so, and under the chapter headed
"Practice according to the School of the Society of Jesus"- Praxis
ex Societatis Jesu Schola- I read these very words: Si habitum
dimittat ut furetur occulte, vel fornicetur. He showed me the same
thing in Diana, in these terms: Ut eat incognitus ad lupanar. "And
why, father," I asked, "are they discharged from excommunication on
"Don't you understand it?" he replied. "Only think what a
scandal it would be, were a monk surprised in such a predicament
with his canonicals on! And have you never heard," he continued,
"how they answer the first bull contra sollicitantes and how our
four-and-twenty, in another chapter of the Practice according to the
School of our Society, explain the bull of Pius V contra clericos,
"I know nothing about all that," said I.
"Then it is a sign you have not read much of Escobar," returned
"I got him only yesterday, father, said I; "and I had no small
difficulty, too, in procuring a copy. I don't know how it is, but
everybody of late has been in search of him."
"The passage to which I referred," returned the monk, "may be
found in treatise I, example 8, no. 102. Consult it at your leisure
when you go home."
I did so that very night; but it is so shockingly bad that I
dare not transcribe it.
The good father then went on to say: "You now understand what
use we make of favourable circumstances. Sometimes, however, obstinate
cases will occur, which will not admit of this mode of adjustment;
so much so, indeed, that you would almost suppose they involved flat
contradictions. For example, three popes have decided that monks who
are bound by a particular vow to a Lenten life cannot be absolved from
it even though they should become bishops. And yet Diana avers that
notwithstanding this decision they are absolved.
"And how does he reconcile that?" said I.
"By the most subtle of all the modern methods, and by the nicest
possible application of probability," replied the monk. "You may
recollect you were told the other day that the affirmative and
negative of most opinions have each, according to our doctors, some
probability enough, at least, to be followed with a safe conscience.
Not that the pro and con are both true in the same sense- that is
impossible- but only they are both probable and, therefore, safe, as a
matter of course. On this principle our worthy friend Diana remarks:
'To the decision of these three popes, which is contrary to my
opinion, I answer that they spoke in this way by adhering to the
affirmative side- which, in fact, even in my judgement, is probable;
but it does not follow from this that the negative may not have its
probability too.' And in the same treatise, speaking of another
subject on which he again differs from a pope, he says: 'The pope, I
grant, has said it as the head of the Church; but his decision does
not extend beyond the sphere of the probability of his own opinion.'
Now you perceive this is not doing any harm to the opinions of the
popes; such a thing would never be tolerated at Rome, where Diana is
in high repute. For he does not say that what the popes have decided
is not probable; but leaving their opinion within the sphere of
probability, he merely says that the contrary is also probable."
"That is very respectful," said I.
"Yes," added the monk, "and rather more ingenious than the reply
made by Father Bauny, when his books were censured at Rome; for,
when pushed very hard on this point by M. Hallier, he made bold to
write: 'What has the censure of Rome to do with that of France?' You
now see how, either by the interpretation of terms, by the observation
of favourable circumstances, or by the aid of the double probability
of pro and con, we always contrive to reconcile those seeming
contradictions which occasioned you so much surprise, without ever
touching on the decisions of Scripture, councils, or popes."
"Reverend father," said I, "how happy the world is in having
such men as you for its masters! And what blessings are these
probabilities! I never knew the reason why you took such pains to
establish that a single doctor, if a grave one, might render an
opinion probable, and that the contrary might be so too, and that
one may choose any side one pleases, even though he does not believe
it to be the right side, and all with such a safe conscience, that the
confessor who should refuse him absolution on the faith of the
casuists would be in a state of damnation. But I see now that a single
casuist may make new rules of morality at his discretion and
dispose, according to his fancy, of everything pertaining to the
regulation of manners."
"What you have now said," rejoined the father, "would require to
be modified a little. Pay attention now, while I explain our method,
and you will observe the progress of a new opinion, from its birth
to its maturity. First, the grave doctor who invented it exhibits it
to the world, casting it abroad like seed, that it may take root. In
this state it is very feeble; it requires time gradually to ripen.
This accounts for Diana, who has introduced a great many of these
opinions, saying: 'I advance this opinion; but as it is new, I give it
time to come to maturity- relinquo tempori maturandum.' Thus in a
few years it becomes insensibly consolidated; and, after a
considerable time, it is sanctioned by the tacit approbation of the
Church, according to the grand maxim of Father Bauny, 'that if an
opinion has been advanced by some casuist, and has not been impugned
by the Church, it is a sign that she approves of it.' And, in fact, on
this principle he authenticates one of his own principles in his sixth
treatise, p. 312."
"Indeed, father! " cried I, "why, on this principle the Church
would approve of all the abuses which she tolerates, and all the
errors in all the books which she does not censure!"
"Dispute the point with Father Bauny," he replied. "I am merely
quoting his words, and you begin to quarrel with me. There is no
disputing with facts, sir. Well, as I was saying, when time has thus
matured an opinion, it thenceforth becomes completely probable and
safe. Hence the learned Caramuel, in dedicating his Fundamental
Theology to Diana, declares that this great Diana has rendered many
opinions probable which were not so before- quae antea non erant,
and that, therefore, in following them, persons do not sin now, though
they would have sinned formerly- jam non peccant, licet ante
"Truly, father," I observed, "it must be worth one's while
living in the neighbourhood of your doctors. Why, of two individuals
who do the same actions, he that knows nothing about their doctrine
sins, while he that knows it does no sin. It seems, then, that their
doctrine possesses at once an edifying and a justifying virtue! The
law of God, according to St. Paul, made transgressors; but this law of
yours makes nearly all of us innocent. I beseech you, my dear sir, let
me know all about it. I will not leave you till you have told me all
the maxims which your casuists have established."
"Alas!" the monk exclaimed, "our main object, no doubt, should
have been to establish no other maxims than those of the Gospel in all
their strictness: and it is easy to see, from the Rules for the
regulation of our manners, that, if we tolerate some degree of
relaxation in others, it is rather out of complaisance than through
design. The truth is, sir, we are forced to it. Men have arrived at
such a pitch of corruption nowadays that, unable to make them come
to us, we must e'en go to them, otherwise they would cast us off
altogether; and, what is worse, they would become perfect castaways.
It is to retain such characters as these that our casuists have
taken under consideration the vices to which people of various
conditions are most addicted, with the view of laying down maxims
which, while they cannot be said to violate the truth, are so gentle
that he must be a very impracticable subject indeed who is not pleased
with them. The grand project of our Society, for the good of religion,
is never to repulse any one, let him be what he may, and so avoid
driving people to despair.
"They have got maxims, therefore, for all sorts of persons; for
beneficiaries, for priests, for monks; for gentlemen, for servants;
for rich men, for commercial men; for people in embarrassed or
indigent circumstances; for devout women, and women that are not
devout; for married people, and irregular people. In short, nothing
has escaped their foresight."
"In other words," said I, "they have got maxims for the clergy,
the nobility, and the commons. Well, I am quite impatient to hear
"Let us commence," resumed the father, 'with the beneficiaries.
You are aware of the traffic with benefices that is now carried on,
and that, were the matter referred to St. Thomas and the ancients
who had written on it, there might chance to be some simoniacs in
the Church. This rendered it highly necessary for our fathers to
exercise their prudence in finding out a palliative. With what success
they have done so will appear from the following words of Valencia,
who is one of Escobar's 'four living creatures.' At the end of a
long discourse, in which he suggests various expedients, he
propounds the following at page 2039, vol. iii, which, to my mind,
is the best: 'If a person gives a temporal in exchange for a spiritual
good'- that is, if he gives money for a benefice- 'and gives the money
as the price of the benefice, it is manifest simony. But if he gives
it merely as the motive which inclines the will of the patron to
confer on him the living, it is not simony, even though the person who
confers it considers and expects the money as the principal object.'
Tanner, who is also a member of our Society, affirms the same thing,
vol. iii, p.1519, although he 'grants that St. Thomas is opposed to
it; for he expressly teaches that it is always simony to give a
spiritual for a temporal good, if the temporal is the end in view.' By
this means we prevent an immense number of simoniacal transactions;
for who would be so desperately wicked as to refuse, when giving money
for a benefice, to take the simple precaution of so directing his
intentions as to give it as a motive to induce the beneficiary to part
with it, instead of giving it as the price of the benefice? No man,
surely, can be so far left to himself as that would come to."
"I agree with you there," I replied; "all men, I should think,
have sufficient grace to make a bargain of that sort."
"There can be no doubt of it," returned the monk. "Such, then,
is the way in which we soften matters in regard to the
beneficiaries. And now for the priests- we have maxims pretty
favourable to them also. Take the following, for example, from our
four-and-twenty elders: "Can a priest, who has received money to say a
mass, take an additional sum upon the same mass? Yes, says
Filiutius, he may, by applying that part of the sacrifice which
belongs to himself as a priest to the person who paid him last;
provided he does not take a sum equivalent to a whole mass, but only a
part, such as the third of a mass.'"
"Surely, father," said I, "this must be one of those cases in
which the pro and the con have both their share of probability. What
you have now stated cannot fail, of course, to be probable, having the
authority of such men as Filiutius and Escobar; and yet, leaving
that within the sphere of probability, it strikes me that the contrary
opinion might be made out to be probable too, and might be supported
by such reasons as the following: That, while the Church allows
priests who are in poor circumstances to take money for their
masses, seeing it is but right that those who serve at the altar
should live by the altar, she never intended that they should barter
the sacrifice for money, and, still less, that they should deprive
themselves of those benefits which they ought themselves, in the first
place, to draw from it; to which I might add that, according to St.
Paul, the priests are to offer sacrifice first for themselves and then
for the people; and that, accordingly, while permitted to
participate with others in the benefit of the sacrifice, they are
not at liberty to forego their share by transferring it to another for
a third of a mass, or, in other words, for the matter of fourpence
or fivepence. Verily, father, little as I pretend to be a grave man, I
might contrive to make this opinion probable."
"It would cost you no great pains to do that, replied the monk;
"it is visibly probable already. The difficulty lies in discovering
probability in the converse of opinions manifestly good; and this is a
feat which none but great men can achieve. Father Bauny shines in this
department. It is really delightful to see that learned casuist
examining with characteristic ingenuity and subtlety the negative
and affirmative of the same question, and proving both of them to be
right! Thus in the matter of priests, he says in one place: 'No law
can be made to oblige the curates to say mass every day; for such a
law would unquestionably (haud dubie) expose them to the danger of
saying it sometimes in mortal sin.' And yet, in another part of the
same treatise, he says, 'that priests who have received money for
saying mass every day ought to say it every day, and that they
cannot excuse themselves on the ground that they are not always in a
fit state for the service; because it is in their power at all times
to do penance, and if they neglect this they have themselves to
blame for it and not the person who made them say mass.' And to
relieve their minds from all scruples on the subject, he thus resolves
the question: 'May a priest say mass on the same day in which he has
committed a mortal sin of the worst kind, in the way of confessing
himself beforehand?' Villalobos says no, because of his impurity;
but Sancius says: 'He may without any sin; and I hold his opinion to
be safe, and one which may be followed in practice- et tuta et
sequenda in praxi.'"
"Follow this opinion in practice!" cried I. "Will any priest who
has fallen into such irregularities have the assurance on the same day
to approach the altar, on the mere word of Father Bauny? Is he not
bound to submit to the ancient laws of the Church, which debarred from
the sacrifice forever, or at least for a long time, priests who had
committed sins of that description- instead of following the modern
opinions of casuists, who would admit him to it on the very day that
witnessed his fall?"
"You have a very short memory, returned the monk. "Did I not
inform you a little ago that, according to our fathers Cellot and
Reginald, 'in matters of morality we are to follow, not the ancient
fathers, but the modern casuists?'"
"I remember it perfectly," said I; "but we have something more
here: we have the laws of the Church."
"True," he replied; "but this shows you do not know another
capital maxim of our fathers, 'that the laws of the Church lose
their authority when they have gone into desuetude- cum jam
desuetudine abierunt- as Filiutius says. We know the present
exigencies of the Church much better than the ancients could do.
Were we to be so strict in excluding priests from the altar, you can
understand there would not be such a great number of masses. Now a
multitude of masses brings such a revenue of glory to God and of
good to souls that I may venture to say, with Father Cellot, that
there would not be too many priests, 'though not only all men and
women, were that possible, but even inanimate bodies, and even brute
beasts- bruta animalia- were transformed into priests to celebrate
I was so astounded at the extravagance of this imagination that
I could not utter a word and allowed him to go on with his
discourse. "Enough, however, about priests; I am afraid of getting
tedious: let us come to the monks. The grand difficulty with them is
the obedience they owe to their superiors; now observe the
palliative which our fathers apply in this case. Castro Palao of our
Society has said: 'Beyond all dispute, a monk who has a probable
opinion of his own, is not bound to obey his superior, though the
opinion of the latter is the more probable. For the monk is at liberty
to adopt the opinion which is more agreeable to himself- quae sibi
gratior fuerit- as Sanchez says. And though the order of his
superior be just, that does not oblige you to obey him, for it is
not just at all points or in every respect- non undequaque juste
praecepit- but only probably so; and, consequently, you are only
probably bound to obey him, and probably not bound- probabiliter
obligatus, et probabiliter deobligatus.'"
"Certainly, father," said I, "it is impossible too highly to
estimate this precious fruit of the double probability."
"It is of great use indeed," he replied; "but we must be brief.
Let me only give you the following specimen of our famous Molina in
favour of monks who are expelled from their convents for
irregularities. Escobar quotes him thus: 'Molina asserts that a monk
expelled from his monastery is not obliged to reform in order to get
back again, and that he is no longer bound by his vow of obedience.'"
"Well, father," cried I, "this is all very comfortable for the
clergy. Your casuists, I perceive, have been very indulgent to them,
and no wonder- they were legislating, so to speak, for themselves. I
am afraid people of other conditions are not so liberally treated.
Every one for himself in this world."
"There you do us wrong," returned the monk; "they could not have
been kinder to themselves than we have been to them. We treat all,
from the highest to the lowest, with an even-handed charity, sir.
And to prove this, you tempt me to tell you our maxims for servants.
In reference to this class, we have taken into consideration the
difficulty they must experience, when they are men of conscience, in
serving profligate masters. For, if they refuse to perform all the
errands in which they are employed, they lose their places; and if
they yield obedience, they have their scruples. To relieve them from
these, our four-and-twenty fathers have specified the services which
they may render with a safe conscience; such as 'carrying letters
and presents, opening doors and windows, helping their master to reach
the window, holding the ladder which he is mounting. All this,' say
they, 'is allowable and indifferent; it is true that, as to holding
the ladder, they must be threatened, more than usually, with being
punished for refusing; for it is doing an injury to the master of a
house to enter it by the window.' You perceive the judiciousness of
that observation, of course?"
"I expected nothing less," said I, "from a book edited by
"But," added the monk, "Father Bauny has gone beyond this; he
has taught valets how to perform these sorts of offices for their
masters quite innocently, by making them direct their intention, not
to the sins to which they are accessary, but to the gain which is to
accrue from them. In his Summary of Sins, p.710, first edition, he
thus states the matter: 'Let confessors observe,' says he, 'that
they cannot absolve valets who perform base errands, if they consent
to the sins of their masters; but the reverse holds true, if they have
done the thing merely from a regard to their temporal emolument.'
And that, I should conceive, is no difficult matter to do; for why
should they insist on consenting to sins of which they taste nothing
but the trouble? The same Father Bauny has established a prime maxim
in favour of those who are not content with their wages: 'May servants
who are dissatisfied with their wages use means to raise them by
laying their hands on as much of the property of their masters as they
may consider necessary to make the said wages equivalent to their
trouble? They may, in certain circumstances; as when they are so
poor that, in looking for a situation, they have been obliged to
accept the offer made to them, and when other servants of the same
class are gaining more than they, elsewhere.'"
"Ha, father!" cried I, "that is John d'Alba's passage, I declare."
"What John d'Alba?" inquired the father: "what do you mean?"
"Strange, father!" returned I: "do you not remember what
happened in this city in the year 1647? Where in the world were you
living at that time?"
"I was teaching cases of conscience in one of our colleges far
from Paris," he replied.
"I see you don't know the story, father: I must tell it to you.
I heard it related the other day by a man of honour, whom I met in
company. He told us that this John d'Alba, who was in the service of
your fathers in the College of Clermont, in the Rue St. Jacques, being
dissatisfied with his wages, had purloined something to make himself
amends; and that your fathers, on discovering the theft, had thrown
him into prison on the charge of larceny. The case was reported to the
court, if I recollect right, on the 16th of April, 1647; for he was
very minute in his statements, and indeed they would hardly have
been credible otherwise. The poor fellow, on being questioned,
confessed to having taken some pewter plates, but maintained that
for all that he had not stolen them; pleading in his defence this very
doctrine of Father Bauny, which he produced before the judges, along
with a pamphlet by one of your fathers, under whom he had studied
cases of conscience, and who had taught him the same thing.
Whereupon M. de Montrouge, one of the most respected members of the
court, said, in giving his opinion, 'that he did not see how, on the
ground of the writings of these fathers- writings containing a
doctrine so illegal, pernicious, and contrary to all laws, natural,
divine, and human, and calculated to ruin all families, and sanction
all sorts of household robbery- they could discharge the accused.
But his opinion was that this too faithful disciple should be
whipped before the college gate, by the hand of the common hangman;
and that, at the same time, this functionary should burn the
writings of these fathers which treated of larceny, with certification
that they were prohibited from teaching such doctrine in future,
upon pain of death.'
"The result of this judgement, which was heartily approved of, was
waited for with much curiosity, when some incident occurred which made
them delay procedure. But in the meantime the prisoner disappeared,
nobody knew how, and nothing more was heard about the affair; so
that John d'Alba got off, pewter plates and all. Such was the
account he gave us, to which he added, that the judgement of M. de
Montrouge was entered on the records of the court, where any one may
consult it. We were highly amused at the story."
"What are you trifling about now?" cried the monk. "What does
all that signify? I was explaining the maxims of our casuists, and was
just going to speak of those relating to gentlemen, when you interrupt
me with impertinent stories."
"It was only something put in by the way, father," I observed;
"and besides, I was anxious to apprise you of an important
circumstance, which I find you have overlooked in establishing your
doctrine of probability."
"Ay, indeed!" exclaimed the monk, "what defect can this be that
has escaped the notice of so many ingenious men?"
"You have certainly," continued I, "contrived to place your
disciples in perfect safety so far as God and the conscience are
concerned; for they are quite safe in that quarter, according to
you, by following in the wake of a grave doctor. You have also secured
them on the part of the confessors, by obliging priests, on the pain
of mortal sin, to absolve all who follow a probable opinion. But you
have neglected to secure them on the part of the judges; so that, in
following your probabilities, they are in danger of coming into
contact with the whip and the gallows. This is a sad oversight."
"You are right," said the monk; "I am glad you mentioned it. But
the reason is we have no such power over magistrates as over the
confessors, who are obliged to refer to us in cases of conscience,
in which we are the sovereign judges."
"So I understand," returned I; "but if, on the one hand, you are
the judges of the confessors, are you not, on the other hand, the
confessors of the judges? Your power is very extensive. Oblige them,
on pain of being debarred from the sacraments, to acquit all criminals
who act on a probable opinion; otherwise it may happen, to the great
contempt and scandal of probability, that those whom you render
innocent in theory may be whipped or hanged in practice. Without
something of this kind, how can you expect to get disciples?"
"The matter deserves consideration," said he; "it will never do to
neglect it. I shall suggest it to our father Provincial. You might,
however, have reserved this advice to some other time, without
interrupting the account I was about to give you of the maxims which
we have established in favour of gentlemen; and I shall not give you
any more information, except on condition that you do not tell me
any more stories."
This is all you shall have from me at present; for it would
require more than the limits of one letter to acquaint you with all
that I learned in a single conversation. Meanwhile I am, &c.
Paris, April 25, 1656
Having succeeded in pacifying the good father, who had been rather
disconcerted by the story of John d'Alba, he resumed the conversation,
on my assuring him that I would avoid all such interruptions in
future, and spoke of the maxims of his casuists with regard to
gentlemen, nearly in the following terms:
"You know," he said, "that the ruling passion of persons in that
rank of life is 'the point of honor,' which is perpetually driving
them into acts of violence apparently quite at variance with Christian
piety; so that, in fact, they would be almost all of them excluded
from our confessionals, had not our fathers relaxed a little from
the strictness of religion, to accommodate themselves to the
weakness of humanity. Anxious to keep on good terms both with the
Gospel, by doing their duty to God, and with the men of the world,
by showing charity to their neighbour, they needed all the wisdom they
possessed to devise expedients for so nicely adjusting matters as to
permit these gentlemen to adopt the methods usually resorted to for
vindicating their honour, without wounding their consciences, and thus
reconcile two things apparently so opposite to each other as piety and
the point of honour. But, sir, in proportion to the utility of the
design, was the difficulty of the execution. You cannot fail, I should
think, to realize the magnitude and arduousness of such an
"It astonishes me, certainly," said I, rather coldly.
"It astonishes you, forsooth!" cried the monk. "I can well believe
that; many besides you might be astonished at it. Why, don't you
know that, on the one hand, the Gospel commands us 'not to render evil
for evil, but to leave vengeance to God'; and that, on the other hand,
the laws of the world forbid our enduring an affront without demanding
satisfaction from the offender, and that often at the expense of his
life? You have never, I am sure, met with anything to all appearance
more diametrically opposed than these two codes of morals; and yet,
when told that our fathers have reconciled them, you have nothing more
to say than simply that this astonishes you!"
"I did not sufficiently explain myself, father. I should certainly
have considered the thing perfectly impracticable, if I had not known,
from what I have seen of your fathers, that they are capable of
doing with ease what is impossible to other men. This led me to
anticipate that they must have discovered some method for meeting
the difficulty- a method which I admire even before knowing it, and
which I pray you to explain to me."
"Since that is your view of the matter," replied the monk, "I
cannot refuse you. Know then, that this marvellous principle is our
grand method of directing the intention- the importance of which, in
our moral system, is such that I might almost venture to compare it
with the doctrine of probability. You have had some glimpses of it
in passing, from certain maxims which I mentioned to you. For example,
when I was showing you how servants might execute certain
troublesome jobs with a safe conscience, did you not remark that it
was simply by diverting their intention from the evil to which they
were accessary to the profit which they might reap from the
transaction? Now that is what we call directing the intention. You
saw, too, that, were it not for a similar divergence of the mind,
those who give money for benefices might be downright simoniacs. But I
will now show you this grand method in all its glory, as it applies to
the subject of homicide- a crime which it justifies in a thousand
instances; in order that, from this startling result, you may form
an idea of all that it is calculated to effect."
"I foresee already," said I, "that, according to this mode,
everything will be permitted; it win stick at nothing."
"You always fly from the one extreme to the other," replied the
monk: "prithee avoid that habit. For, just to show you that we are far
from permitting everything, let me tell you that we never suffer
such a thing as a formal intention to sin, with the sole design of
sinning; and if any person whatever should persist in having no
other end but evil in the evil that he does, we break with him at
once: such conduct is diabolical. This holds true, without exception
of age, sex, or rank. But when the person is not of such a wretched
disposition as this, we try to put in practice our method of directing
the intention, which simply consists in his proposing to himself, as
the end of his actions, some allowable object. Not that we do not
endeavour, as far as we can, to dissuade men from doing things
forbidden; but when we cannot prevent the action, we at least purify
the motive, and thus correct the viciousness of the means by the
goodness of the end. Such is the way in which our fathers have
contrived to permit those acts of violence to which men usually resort
in vindication of their honour. They have no more to do than to turn
off their intention from the desire of vengeance, which is criminal,
and direct it to a desire to defend their honour, which, according
to us, is quite warrantable. And in this way our doctors discharge all
their duty towards God and towards man. By permitting the action, they
gratify the world; and by purifying the intention, they give
satisfaction to the Gospel. This is a secret, sir, which was
entirely unknown to the ancients; the world is indebted for the
discovery entirely to our doctors. You understand it now, I hope?"
"Perfectly well," was my reply. "To men you grant the outward
material effect of the action; and to God you give the inward and
spiritual movement of the intention; and by this equitable
partition, you form an alliance between the laws of God and the laws
of men. But, my dear sir, to be frank with you, I can hardly trust
your premisses, and I suspect that your authors will tell another
"You do me injustice, rejoined the monk; "I advance nothing but
what I am ready to prove, and that by such a rich array of passages
that altogether their number, their authority, and their reasonings,
will fill you with admiration. To show you, for example, the
alliance which our fathers have formed between the maxims of the
Gospel and those of the world, by thus regulating the intention, let
me refer you to Reginald: 'Private persons are forbidden to avenge
themselves; for St. Paul says to the Romans (12), "Recompense to no
man evil for evil"; and Ecclesiasticus says (28), "He that taketh
vengeance shall draw on himself the vengeance of God, and his sins
will not be forgotten." Besides all that is said in the Gospel about
forgiving offences, as in chapters 6 and 18 of St. Matthew.'"
"Well, father, if after that he says anything contrary to the
Scripture, it will not be from lack of scriptural knowledge, at any
rate. Pray, how does he conclude?"
"You shall hear," he said. "From all this it appears that a
military man may demand satisfaction on the spot from the person who
has injured him- not, indeed, with the intention of rendering evil for
evil, but with that of preserving his honour- 'non ut malum pro malo
reddat, sed ut conservet honorem.' See you how carefully they guard
against the intention of rendering evil for evil, because the
Scripture condemns it? This is what they will tolerate on no
account. Thus Lessius observes, that 'if a man has received a blow
on the face, he must on no account have an intention to avenge
himself; but he may lawfully have an intention to avert infamy, and
may, with that view, repel the insult immediately, even at the point
of the sword- etiam cum gladio!' So far are we from permitting any one
to cherish the design of taking vengeance on his enemies that our
fathers will not allow any even to wish their death- by a movement
of hatred. 'If your enemy is disposed to injure you,' says Escobar,
'you have no right to wish his death, by a movement of hatred;
though you may, with a view to save yourself from harm.' So
legitimate, indeed, is this wish, with such an intention, that our
great Hurtado de Mendoza says that 'we may pray God to visit with
speedy death those who are bent on persecuting us, if there is no
other way of escaping from it.'"
"May it please your reverence," said I, "the Church has
forgotten to insert a petition to that effect among her prayers."
"They have not put in everything into the prayers that one may
lawfully ask of God," answered the monk. "Besides, in the present
case, the thing was impossible, for this same opinion is of more
recent standing than the Breviary. You are not a good chronologist,
friend. But, not to wander from the point, let me request vour
attention to the following passage, cited by Diana from Gaspar
Hurtado, one of Escobar's four-and-twenty fathers: 'An incumbent
may, without any mortal sin, desire the decease of a life-renter on
his benefice, and a son that of his father, and rejoice when it
happens; provided always it is for the sake of the profit that is to
accrue from the event, and not from personal aversion.'"
"Good!" cried I. "That is certainly a very happy hit; and I can
easily see that the doctrine admits of a wide application. But yet
there are certain cases, the solution of which, though of great
importance for gentlemen, might present still greater difficulties."
"Propose them, if you please, that we may see," said the monk.
"Show me, with all your directing of the intention," returned I,
"that it is allowable to fight a duel."
"Our great Hurtado de Mendoza," said the father, "will satisfy you
on that point in a twinkling. 'If a gentleman,' says he, in a
passage cited by Diana, 'who is challenged to fight a duel, is well
known to have no religion, and if the vices to which he is openly
and unscrupulously addicted are such as would lead people to conclude,
in the event of his refusing to fight, that he is actuated, not by the
fear of God, but by cowardice, and induce them to say of him that he
was a hen, and not a man, gallina, et non vir; in that case he may, to
save his honour, appear at the appointed spot- not, indeed, with the
express intention of fighting a duel, but merely with that of
defending himself, should the person who challenged him come there
unjustly to attack him. His action in this case, viewed by itself,
will be perfectly indifferent; for what moral evil is there in one
stepping into a field, taking a stroll in expectation of meeting a
person, and defending one's self in the event of being attacked? And
thus the gentleman is guilty of no sin whatever; for in fact it cannot
be called accepting a challenge at all, his intention being directed
to other circumstances, and the acceptance of a challenge consisting
in an express intention to fight, which we are supposing the gentleman
"You have not kept your word with me, sir," said I. "This is
not, properly speaking, to permit duelling; on the contrary, the
casuist is so persuaded that this practice is forbidden that, in
licensing the action in question, he carefully avoids calling it a
"Ah!" cried the monk, "you begin to get knowing on my hand, I am
glad to see. I might reply that the author I have quoted grants all
that duellists are disposed to ask. But since you must have a
categorical answer, I shall allow our Father Layman to give it for me.
He permits duelling in so many words, provided that, in accepting
the challenge, the person directs his intention solely to the
preservation of his honour or his property: 'If a soldier or a
courtier is in such a predicament that he must lose either his
honour or his fortune unless he accepts a challenge, I see nothing
to hinder him from doing so in self-defence.' The same thing is said
by Peter Hurtado, as quoted by our famous Escobar; his words are: 'One
may fight a duel even to defend one's property, should that be
necessary; because every man has a right to defend his property,
though at the expense of his enemy's life!'"
I was struck, on hearing these passages, with the reflection that,
while the piety of the king appears in his exerting all his power to
prohibit and abolish the practice of duelling in the State, the
piety of the Jesuits is shown in their employing all their ingenuity
to tolerate and sanction it in the Church. But the good father was
in such an excellent key for talking that it would have been cruel
to have interrupted him; so he went on with his discourse.
"In short," said he, "Sanchez (mark, now, what great names I am
quoting to you!) Sanchez, sir, goes a step further; for he shows
how, simply by managing the intention rightly, a person may not only
receive a challenge, but give one. And our Escobar follows him."
"Prove that, father," said I, "and I shall give up the point:
but I will not believe that he has written it, unless I see it in
"Read it yourself, then," he replied: and, to be sure, I read
the following extract from the Moral Theology of Sanchez: "It is
perfectly reasonable to hold that a man may fight a duel to save his
life, his honour, or any considerable portion of his property, when it
is apparent that there is a design to deprive him of these unjustly,
by law-suits and chicanery, and when there is no other way of
preserving them. Navarre justly observes that, in such cases, it is
lawful either to accept or to send a challenge- licet acceptare et
offerre duellum. The same author adds that there is nothing to prevent
one from despatching one's adversary in a private way. Indeed, in
the circumstances referred to, it is advisable to avoid employing
the method of the duel, if it is possible to settle the affair by
privately killing our enemy; for, by this means, we escape at once
from exposing our life in the combat, and from participating in the
sin which our opponent would have committed by fighting the duel!"
"A most pious assassination!" said I. "Still, however, pious
though it be, it is assassination, if a man is permitted to kill his
enemy in a treacherous manner."
"Did I say that he might kill him treacherously?" cried the
monk. "God forbid! I said he might kill him privately, and you
conclude that he may kill him treacherously, as if that were the
same thing! Attend, sir, to Escobar's definition before allowing
yourself to speak again on this subject: 'We call it killing in
treachery when the person who is slain had no reason to suspect such a
fate. He, therefore, that slays his enemy cannot be said to kill him
in treachery, even although the blow should be given insidiously and
behind his back- licet per insidias aut a tergo percutiat.' And again:
'He that kills his enemy, with whom he was reconciled under a
promise of never again attempting his life, cannot be absolutely
said to kill in treachery, unless there was between them all the
stricter friendship- arctior amicitia.' You see now you do not even
understand what the terms signify, and yet you pretend to talk like
"I grant you this is something quite new to me," I replied; "and I
should gather from that definition that few, if any, were ever
killed in treachery; for people seldom take it into their heads to
assassinate any but their enemies. Be this as it may, however, it
seems that, according to Sanchez, a man may freely slay (I do not
say treacherously, but only insidiously and behind his back) a
calumniator, for example, who prosecutes us at law?"
"Certainly he may," returned the monk, "always, however, in the
way of giving a right direction to the intention: you constantly
forget the main point. Molina supports the same doctrine; and what
is more, our learned brother Reginald maintains that we may despatch
the false witnesses whom he summons against us. And, to crown the
whole, according to our great and famous fathers Tanner and Emanuel
Sa, it is lawful to kill both the false witnesses and the judge
himself, if he has had any collusion with them. Here are Tanner's very
words: 'Sotus and Lessius think that it is not lawful to kill the
false witnesses and the magistrate who conspire together to put an
innocent person to death; but Emanuel Sa and other authors with good
reason impugn that sentiment, at least so far as the conscience is
concerned.' And he goes on to show that it is quite lawful to kill
both the witnesses and the judge."
"Well, father," said I, "I think I now understand pretty well your
principle regarding the direction of the intention: but I should
like to know something of its consequences, and all the cases in which
this method of yours arms a man with the power of life and death.
Let us go over them again, for fear of mistake, for equivocation
here might be attended with dangerous results. Killing is a matter
which requires to be well-timed, and to be backed with a good probable
opinion. You have assured me, then, that by giving a proper turn to
the intention, it is lawful, according to your fathers, for the
preservation of one's honour, or even property, to accept a
challenge to a duel, to give one sometimes, to kill in a private way a
false accuser, and his witnesses along with him, and even the judge
who has been bribed to favour them; and you have also told me that
he who has got a blow may, without avenging himself, retaliate with
the sword. But you have not told me, father, to what length he may
"He can hardly mistake there," replied the father, "for he may
go all the length of killing his man. This is satisfactorily proved by
the learned Henriquez, and others of our fathers quoted by Escobar, as
follows: 'It is perfectly right to kill a person who has given us a
box on the ear, although he should run away, provided it is not done
through hatred or revenge, and there is no danger of giving occasion
thereby to murders of a gross kind and hurtful to society. And the
reason is that it is as lawful to pursue the thief that has stolen our
honour, as him that has run away with our property. For, although your
honour cannot be said to be in the hands of your enemy in the same
sense as your goods and chattels are in the hands of the thief,
still it may be recovered in the same way- by showing proofs of
greatness and authority, and thus acquiring the esteem of men. And, in
point of fact, is it not certain that the man who has received a
buffet on the ear is held to be under disgrace, until he has wiped off
the insult with the blood of his enemy?'"
I was so shocked on hearing this that it was with great difficulty
I could contain myself; but, in my anxiety to hear the rest, I allowed
him to proceed.
"Nay," he continued, "it is allowable to prevent a buffet, by
killing him that meant to give it, if there be no other way to
escape the insult. This opinion is quite common with our fathers.
For example, Azor, one of the four-and-twenty elders, proposing the
question, 'Is it lawful for a man of honour to kill another who
threatens to give him a slap on the face, or strike him with a stick?'
replies, 'Some say he may not; alleging that the life of our neighbour
is more precious than our honour, and that it would be an act of
cruelty to kill a man merely to avoid a blow. Others, however, think
that it is allowable; and I certainly consider it probable, when there
is no other way of warding off the insult; for, otherwise, the
honour of the innocent would be constantly exposed to the malice of
the insolent.' The same opinion is given by our great Filiutius; by
Father Hereau, in his Treatise on Homicide, by Hurtado de Mendoza,
in his Disputations, by Becan, in his Summary; by our Fathers
Flahaut and Lecourt, in those writings which the University, in
their third petition, quoted at length, in order to bring them into
disgrace (though in this they failed); and by Escobar. In short,
this opinion is so general that Lessius lays it down as a point
which no casuist has contested; he quotes a great many that uphold,
and none that deny it; and particularly Peter Navarre, who, speaking
of affronts in general (and there is none more provoking than a box on
the ear), declares that 'by the universal consent of the casuists,
it is lawful to kill the calumniator, if there be no other way of
averting the affront- ex sententia omnium, licet contumeliosum
occidere, si aliter ea injuria arceri nequit.' Do you wish any more
authorities?" asked the monk.
I declared I was much obliged to him; I had heard rather more than
enough of them already. But, just to see how far this damnable
doctrine would go, I said, "But, father, may not one be allowed to
kill for something still less? Might not a person so direct his
intention as lawfully to kill another for telling a lie, for example?"
"He may," returned the monk; "and according to Father Baldelle,
quoted by Escobar, 'you may lawfully take the life of another for
saying, "You have told a lie"; if there is no other way of shutting
his mouth.' The same thing may be done in the case of slanders. Our
Fathers Lessius and Hereau agree in the following sentiments: 'If
you attempt to ruin my character by telling stories against me in
the presence of men of honour, and I have no other way of preventing
this than by putting you to death, may I be permitted to do so?
According to the modern authors, I may, and that even though I have
been really guilty of the crime which you divulge, provided it is a
secret one, which you could not establish by legal evidence. And I
prove it thus: If you mean to rob me of my honour by giving me a box
on the ear, I may prevent it by force of arms; and the same mode of
defence is lawful when you would do me the same injury with the
tongue. Besides, we may lawfully obviate affronts and, therefore,
slanders. In fine, honour is dearer than life; and as it is lawful
to kill in defence of life, it must be so to kill in defence of
honour.' There, you see, are arguments in due form; this is
demonstration, sir- not mere discussion. And, to conclude, this
great man Lessius shows, in the same place, that it is lawful to
kill even for a simple gesture, or a sign of contempt. 'A man's
honour,' he remarks, 'may be attacked or filched away in various ways-
in all of which vindication appears very reasonable; as, for instance,
when one offers to strike us with a stick, or give us a slap on the
face, or affront us either by words or signs- sive per signa.'"
"Well, father," said I, "it must be owned that you have made every
possible provision to secure the safety of reputation; but it
strikes me that human life is greatly in danger, if any one may be
conscientiously put to death simply for a defamatory speech or a saucy
"That is true," he replied; "but, as our fathers are very
circumspect, they have thought it proper to forbid putting this
doctrine into practice on such trifling occasions. They say, at least,
'that it ought hardly to be reduced to practice- practice vix
probari potest.' And they have a good reason for that, as you shall
"Oh, I know what it will be," interrupted I; "because the law of
God forbids us to kill, of course."
"They do not exactly take that ground," said the father; "as a
matter of conscience, and viewing the thing abstractly, they hold it
"And why then, do they forbid it?"
"I shall tell you that, sir. It is because, were we to kill all
the defamers among us, we should very shortly depopulate the
country. 'Although,' says Reginald, 'the opinion that we may kill a
man for calumny is not without its probability in theory, the contrary
one ought to be followed in practice; for, in our mode of defending
ourselves, we should always avoid doing injury to the commonwealth;
and it is evident that by killing people in this way there would be
too many murders. 'We should be on our guard,' says Lessius, 'lest the
practice of this maxim prove hurtful to the State; for in this case it
ought not to be permitted- tunc enim non est permittendus.'"
"What, father! is it forbidden only as a point of policy, and
not of religion? Few people, I am afraid, will pay any regard to
such a prohibition, particularly when in a passion. Very probably they
might think they were doing no harm to the State, by ridding it of
an unworthy member."
"And accordingly," replied the monk, "our Filiutius has
fortified that argument with another, which is of no slender
importance, namely, 'that for killing people after this manner, one
might be punished in a court of justice.'"
"There now, father; I told you before, that you will never be able
to do anything worth the while, unless you get the magistrates to go
along with you."
"The magistrates," said the father, "as they do not penetrate into
the conscience, judge merely of the outside of the action, while we
look principally to the intention; and hence it occasionally happens
that our maxims are a little different from theirs."
"Be that as it may, father; from yours, at least, one thing may be
fairly inferred- that, by taking care not to injure the
commonwealth, we may kill defamers with a safe conscience, provided we
can do it with a sound skin. But, sir, after having seen so well to
the protection of honour, have you done nothing for property? I am
aware it is of inferior importance, but that does not signify; I
should think one might direct one's intention to kill for its
"Yes," replied the monk; "and I gave you a hint to that effect
already, which may have suggested the idea to you. All our casuists
agree in that opinion; and they even extend the permission to those
cases 'where no further violence is apprehended from those that
steal our property; as, for example, where the thief runs away.' Azor,
one of our Society, proves that point."
"But, sir, how much must the article be worth, to justify our
proceeding to that extremity?"
"According to Reginald and Tanner, 'the article must be of great
value in the estimation of a judicious man.' And so think Layman and
"But, father, that is saying nothing to the purpose; where am I to
find 'a judicious man' (a rare person to meet with at any time), in
order to make this estimation? Why do they not settle upon an exact
sum at once?"
"Ay, indeed!" retorted the monk; "and was it so easy, think you,
to adjust the comparative value between the life of a man, and a
Christian man, too, and money? It is here I would have you feel the
need of our casuists. Show me any of your ancient fathers who will
tell for how much money we may be allowed to kill a man. What will
they say, but 'Non occides- Thou shalt not kill?'"
"And who, then, has ventured to fix that sum?" I inquired.
"Our great and incomparable Molina," he replied- "the glory of our
Society- who has, in his inimitable wisdom, estimated the life of a
man 'at six or seven ducats; for which sum he assures us it is
warrantable to kill a thief, even though he should run off'; and he
adds, 'that he would not venture to condemn that man as guilty of
any sin who should kill another for taking away an article worth a
crown, or even less- unius aurei, vel minoris adhuc valoris'; which
has led Escobar to lay it down, as a general rule, 'that a man may
be killed quite regularly, according to Molina, for the value of a
"O father," cried I; "where can Molina have got all this wisdom to
enable him to determine a matter of such importance, without any aid
from Scripture, the councils, or the fathers? It is quite evident that
he has obtained an illumination peculiar to himself, and is far beyond
St. Augustine in the matter of homicide, as well as of grace. Well,
now, I suppose I may consider myself master of this chapter of morals;
and I see perfectly that, with the exception of ecclesiastics,
nobody need refrain from killing those who injure them in their
property or reputation."
"What say you?" exclaimed the monk. "Do you, then, suppose that it
would be reasonable that those, who ought of all men to be most
respected, should alone be exposed to the insolence of the wicked? Our
fathers have provided against that disorder; for Tanner declares
that 'Churchmen, and even monks, are permitted to kill, for the
purpose of defending not only their lives, but their property, and
that of their community.' Molina, Escobar, Becan, Reginald, Layman,
Lessius, and others, hold the same language. Nay, according to our
celebrated Father Lamy, priests and monks may lawfully prevent those
who would injure them by calumnies from carrying their ill designs
into effect, by putting them to death. Care, however, must always be
taken to direct the intention properly. His words are: 'An
ecclesiastic or a monk may warrantably kill a defamer who threatens to
publish the scandalous crimes of his community, or his own crimes,
when there is no other way of stopping him; if, for instance, he is
prepared to circulate his defamations unless promptly despatched. For,
in these circumstances, as the monk would be allowed to kill one who
threatened to take his life, he is also warranted to kill him who
would deprive him of his reputation or his property, in the same way
as the men of the world.'"
"I was not aware of that," said I; "in fact, I have been
accustomed simply enough to believe the very reverse, without
reflecting on the matter, in consequence of having heard that the
Church had such an abhorrence of bloodshed as not even to permit
ecclesiastical judges to attend in criminal cases."
"Never mind that," he replied; "our Father Lamy has completely
proved the doctrine I have laid down, although, with a humility
which sits uncommonly well on so great a man, he submits it to the
judgement of his judicious readers. Caramuel, too, our famous
champion, quoting it in his Fundamental Theology, p. 543. thinks it so
certain, that he declares the contrary opinion to be destitute of
probability, and draws some admirable conclusions from it, such as the
following, which he calls 'the conclusion of conclusions- conclusionum
conclusio': 'That a priest not only may kill a slanderer, but there
are certain circumstances in which it may be his duty to do so-
etiam aliquando debet occidere.' He examines a great many new
questions on this principle, such as the following, for instance: 'May
the Jesuits kill the Jansenists?'"
"A curious point of divinity that, father! " cried I. "I hold
the Jansenists to be as good as dead men, according to Father Lamy's
"There, now, you are in the wrong," said the monk: "Caramuel
infers the very reverse from the same principles."
"And how so, father?"
"Because," he replied, "it is not in the power of the Jansenists
to injure our reputation. 'The Jansenists,' says he, 'call the Jesuits
Pelagians, may they not be killed for that? No; inasmuch as the
Jansenists can no more obscure the glory of the Society than an owl
can eclipse that of the sun; on the contrary, they have, though
against their intention, enhanced it- occidi non possunt, quia
nocere non potuerunt.'"
"Ha, father! do the lives of the Jansenists, then, depend on the
contingency of their injuring your reputation? If so, I reckon them
far from being in a safe position; for supposing it should be
thought in the slightest degree probable that they might do you some
mischief, why, they are killable at once! You have only to draw up a
syllogism in due form, and, with a direction of the intention, you may
despatch your man at once with a safe conscience. Thrice happy must
those hot spirits be who cannot bear with injuries, to be instructed
in this doctrine! But woe to the poor people who have offended them!
Indeed, father, it would be better to have to do with persons who have
no religion at all than with those who have been taught on this
system. For, after all, the intention of the wounder conveys no
comfort to the wounded. The poor man sees nothing of that secret
direction of which you speak; he is only sensible of the direction
of the blow that is dealt him. And I am by no means sure but a
person would feel much less sorry to see himself brutally killed by an
infuriated villain than to find himself conscientiously stilettoed
by a devotee. To be plain with you, father, I am somewhat staggered at
all this; and these questions of Father Lamy and Caramuel do not
please me at all."
"How so?" cried the monk. "Are you a Jansenist?"
"I have another reason for it," I replied. "You must know I am
in the habit of writing from time to time, to a friend of mine in
the country, all that I can learn of the maxims of your doctors.
Now, although I do no more than simply report and faithfully quote
their own words, yet I am apprehensive lest my letter should fall into
the hands of some stray genius who may take into his head that I
have done you injury, and may draw some mischievous conclusion from
"Away!" cried the monk; "no fear of danger from that quarter, I'll
give you my word for it. Know that what our fathers have themselves
printed, with the approbation of our superiors, it cannot be wrong
to read nor dangerous to publish."
I write you, therefore, on the faith of this worthy father's
word of honour. But, in the meantime, I must stop for want of paper-
not of passages; for I have got as many more in reserve, and good ones
too, as would require volumes to contain them. I am, &c.